Thoughts in the dark hours

Eric Christian Smith

Sporting's 2-0 loss to Houston proves the pessimists to be the realists -- for now, at least

It's roughly six hours, as I type this, since the final whistle sounded at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0. The home leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal still remains for Sporting, on Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, but right now the hill they have to climb -- even to force a minigame -- looks a bit Himalayan.

And nobody can say "Well, we didn't see this coming." No one with a working knowledge of MLS and the history between these clubs, at least.

Houston has had Kansas City's number since late last season. Three wins, two in the playoffs, and two draws in the last five meetings. And if Sporting don't figure out a way to break that streak soon, it's going to be an early exit from the postseason for the first-place finishers from the East.

There were a lot of hopeful words, mine included, written before today's game. Looking back, it seems like so much whistling past the graveyard, doesn't it?

And yet ... and yet ... there's still the matter of that second leg.

In 2000, before the two-leg system was instituted, the Wizards needed to beat LA at Arrowhead Stadium to avoid elimination in the West semis. They did, and they won the minigame to break the deadlock, and they went on to win Kansas City's only MLS Cup.

And in 2004, the Wizards went to San Jose -- the future Dynamo, although nobody knew it at the time -- and lost 2-0 in the first leg of their West playoff series. They came back to Kansas City, won the second leg 3-0, and eventually reached the MLS Cup Final.

So, yes. There's precedent. But if Sporting are going to match it, they're going to have to figure out how to crack open what's sure to be a military-grade bunker defense by Houston in the second leg.

The Dynamo don't have to win. They don't have to draw. They just have to lose by one goal. There's no incentive at all for them to open up and leave themselves exposed, so they'll come into Livestrong and put 18 men plus coach Dominic Kinnear behind the ball.

The question is simple: Can Sporting get through, over or around that? With two goals over four meetings this season, the answer is a shaky "maybe." (My take: Kansas City will San Jose the heck out of that game, dumping balls into the box and looking for deflections and/or penalties. I could be wrong. I frequently am. But that's what I'd do.)

Tomorrow's another day, and Wednesday's a second chance. If Sporting can score early, they'll be back in it.

If not?

Then Houston will continue to be the nemesis, the Boogeyman, the bright-orange obstacle that Sporting just ... can't ... get ... over. And the people who predicted Sporting's ouster will say "I told you so," and the ones who predicted the second-leg comeback will hear only the echo of whistling.

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