Annnnd ... It's Houston.


Sporting will open MLS playoffs against the team that knocked them out in last year's East final.

While much of Kansas City was out celebrating Hallowe'en, the Sporting faithful tuned in to see the play-in game between fourth-seeded Chicago and fifth-seeded Houston.

And as befits the date, there had to be a bit of horror to see the Dynamo prevail 2-1 behind a brace from Will Bruin. That means Sporting will head south for Sunday's first leg, with the return leg set for next Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park.

There's plenty reason to respect tonight's winners. Dominic Kinnear's brand of win-ugly football makes Houston a tough matchup for anyone, a fact Sporting know all too well from last year's 2-0 loss in the East final and this season's winless (0-1-2) series against the Dynamo.

So it's time to worry, right?

Not necessarily, and here are three reasons why (after you take a break to raid the kids' candy stash again):

1. This isn't the same Sporting team. Same coach, yes. Lot of the same players, yes. But this team is a year older, a lot more tightly knit, and determined not to stumble in the conference stage. There is zero chance of Sporting getting caught out unprepared and unfocused, as they were in last year's conference title game. Plus, Kansas City has already gained valuable experience from winning ...

2. The U.S. Open Cup. There's a reason manager Peter Vermes keeps going back to that,and it's not just to rattle Sigi Schmid's chain. If you think that wasn't a big-time final, with a big-time atmosphere, you must have been watching some shopping channel by mistake. Sporting know what it takes to win silverware in a high-pressure situation, and they can draw on that.

3. There are no draws in the playoffs. Yes, Houston beat Sporting once this year, but that was against a 10-man team after Peterson Joseph's red card. And if this series goes to the minigame, tied on aggregate after the away and return legs, Vermes' strategy of holding out subs until they're absolutely needed will mean fresh legs for that extra time. Also, Jimmy Nielsen.

It could get ugly. Check that. It will get ugly. But there's no reason that Sporting can't come through in the pretty position of reaching a second straight East final.

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