The Houston Dynamo will be looking for their first road victory when they come to Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday. That’s right; their first road win. 0-5-8 is the official road record for the squad right now. You would think that most teams with a road record like Houston’s wouldn’t normally be in the playoff chase, and yet, here they are, currently in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, and only five points from the first place Columbus Crew.
It’s been a crazy season in the Eastern Conference, as no one team has been able to truly pull away from the rest of the pack. This fact, combined with the Dynamo’s solid 8-3-3 record at home, have allowed them to stay in the race for one of the coveted playoff spots.
In the Western Conference, three teams (LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and FC Dallas) have been at the forefront of the standings for much of the season. Real Salt Lake, and Colorado still find themselves with a fighting chance, but the West table took shape rather quickly this season.
No such luck in the East, where it’s anyone’s guess on which three teams will punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Houston comes to Kansas City with Brad Davis, their all time leader in games played, games started, and assists.. Davis has been an assist machine this season as well, tallying 13 total (an MLS best), and he has helped create 84 scoring chances for Houston this season.No one else on the Dynamo comes close in the assist category. He may very well be the best set piece taker in Major League Soccer not named David Beckham. His ability to find his teammates through the smallest of windows, and his knack for crossing the ball into dangerous areas in the box mean Sporting Kansas City defense will have to be at the top of their game on Saturday.
Another player Sporting will have to account for is midfielder/defender Geoff Cameron, who has had a very good season in 2011, resulting in his second MLS All-Star appearance (the other being ‘09) . Cameron has also set a career high in goals (4) to add to his 4 assists this season. He’s probably Houston’s most versatile player, with coach Dominic Kinnear sometimes playing Cameron at the centerback position. He played the bulk of the 2009 campaign at centerback, where he would later be named the Dynamo’s defensive player of the year.
Cameron seems to have a very good connection on the field with fellow midfielder Adam Moffat, who the Dynamo acquired in July from the Portland Timbers in July. Moffat, who’s also played for the Columbus Crew, is a complete workhorse in the midfield, doing the little things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat book, but have kept Houston in the playoff hunt. He’s the kind of player that could cause a lot of problems for the Sporting Kansas City midfield.
Goals may be hard to come by for Sporting on Saturday, as Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall is one of the best in the league. Hall was voted into the MLS All Star team this year, and is only conceding a little over 1 goal per game.
Like most of the teams in MLS, Houston does their goal scoring by committee rather than having one star who carries the squad offensively. Forward Brian Ching (Houston’s all time leading scorer) leads the team with 5 goals, with four other players having 4 goals a piece. I personally think that teams like the Dynamo, who’s goals have come from numerous players on the team, are a little bit harder to deal with than a team like the New York Red Bulls, where so much of the scoring is dependent on one player (Thierry Henry).
I’ll be interested to see the line up that Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes uses for the Dynamo match. With Davy Arnaud back (but probably not 100% just yet) I would imagine Jeferson will start on Saturday, however, I do feel like Jeferson has been the weak link in the midfield. Understandably it’s probably not his fault, as he was out for around a month in August due to a quad strain, and he hasn’t had the time to form a true chemistry and understanding on the pitch with his teammates.
It's in question whether or not Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara will be ready for action on Saturday. Kamara recently returned to Kansas City from international club duty with Sierra Leone. My best guess is that Kei will probably play, but possibly as a substitute. Sporting will surely be glad to have Kamara's scoring abilities back on display after he missed last week's match with the LA Galaxy.
Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin, and Houston Dynamo CB Bobby Boswell will both miss Saturday’s game due to an accumulation of yellow cards, however Saturday will see the return of Sporting forward Teal Bunbury, who missed the LA game for the same reason.
Surely I would think this is a game where Sporting Kansas City has to take advantage of their offensive chances. Too many times this season we’ve seen Sporting create a plethora of scoring opportunities without actually cashing in. Saturday can’t be one of those games.
Simply put; Sporting Kansas City has to find a way to win this match. Houston is a good team, but with Sporting being at home there's no reason to believe they shouldn't be able to pick up three points against a team that has yet to notch a road win.
It’s going to be a tough stretch for Sporting, as they still have to face Columbus (twice), Philadelphia, D.C. United, and New York, all teams that are fighting for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Which makes Saturday's match that much more important.