Here we are. One match away from the MLS Cup, so achingly close for both sides. These two rivals have squared off in the most vicious of matches in 2013, bringing something extra to the match each time. Sporting Kansas City is looking to exorcise their demons and get past the Dynamo to reach their first MLS Cup since 2004. The Dynamo are looking for a third straight MLS Cup berth as they look to get over the hump and finally win the trophy that has eluded them the past two years. It's been two weeks as the most anticipated match of the season for SKC finally comes to a head.
About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
The two week break had to do Sporting Kansas City some good since only one player was called into international duty over the break and Soony Saad hadn't even been playing much during the playoffs. This means that Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and the rest of the starting eleven are going to be perfectly rested heading into tomorrow. More good news for Sporting KC is that the threat of yellow card suspensions is now gone, which means that Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers can play at their usual defensive intensity as they try to keep the Dynamo out of the net. With a rocking home crowd, no injuries to the starters and a rested lineup, things are looking good for the home side.
While the two-week break did some good for Sporting KC, it must've been glorious for the Dynamo. Finishing off a 21 day stretch in which they played seven matches, the two-week break couldn't have come at a better time for the Dynamo. However, their rested lineup could possibly be missing one of its centerpieces in Ricardo Clark. Clark exited the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final with an injury and has not practiced with the team since. He is listed as questionable for this match and would deal a huge blow to the Dynamo midfield if he can't play. However, history is on the side of Houston as they have come into Sporting Park the last two years and have been able to win the series on both. As they look for their third straight MLS Cup berth, they'll be a tough team to beat tonight.
Who to Watch For
Sporting Kansas City- Graham Zusi
Sporting is obviously going to need to score in this match to beat the Dynamo, so it makes sense to call upon the man who has been responsible for the most goals this season for Sporting Kansas City. Zusi has assisted eight goals while scoring six of his own, making him the most dangerous weapon on the field for Sporting KC. If he is in the midfield like I think he is going to be, he'll have the opportunity to either knock around an injured Ricardo Clark or he'll be able to control a Clark-less midfield. If Zusi has Feilhaber accompanying him in the middle there should be no reason Sporting does not work the Dynamo in the middle of the pitch.
Houston Dynamo- Brad Davis
As we saw in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final, Brad Davis assumed the center attacking midfielder role when Clark went out, forcing Driver into the left spot and moving Davis up. Regardless if Clark is able to play or not, Davis is going to play a huge role in how the Dynamo does in this match. If Clark does play, it'll be Davis' contributions on the left that help control the tempo in the Dynamo's favor and to stop the Sporting KC attack before it starts. If Clark does not play, the offense will be brought to the feet of Davis. His ability to control the midfield against Zusi and Feilhaber will be the deciding factor in this match.
How They Will Win
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City has the midfield advantage in this game whether Clark plays or not. If Clark does play, he's going to be a bit rusty from not practicing with the team in two weeks and he will not be playing at 100%. Rosell should be able to control his attack and also should be able to control the attack if Davis ends up being the CAM. On the attacking side, Zusi and Feilhaber should be able to take over the midfield whether Clark is there or not and they can force themselves up the pitch to give Sporting five aggressive attackers in the Dynamo half. If Sporting wins the midfield battle like they should, they stand a great chance of pressuring the Dynamo into a goal.
We saw the Dynamo effectively shut down Sporting KC's attempted style in the first leg and they nearly got a goal out of it. They'll have to do the same in this leg for them to get a goal at some point in the game and steal a win. They need to play physical in the midfield and on the back line, forcing Sporting KC to give up their finesse, attacking style. If Houston can turn the match into a grind-it-out type battle where they can control the majority of possession they can eventually frustrate the home side to give up a goal. They were almost able to use these tactics to get a goal in Houston, and a repeat performance in Kansas City might see them through to the MLS Cup Final again.
Sporting Kansas City: Nielsen, Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Rosell, Zusi, Feilhaber, Sapong, Dwyer, Saad
Houston Dynamo: Hall, Ashe, Brunner, Boswell, Sarkodie, Creavalle, Garcia, Driver, Davis, Bruin, Cummings
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Houston Dynamo (Extra Time)
It'll take 120 minutes but I believe that Sporting Kansas City will finally exorcise their demons and get past the Dynamo en route to their first MLS Cup appearance since 2004. I see a tough possession battle like we have seen in the four matches already played this season but a Sporting victory in the end.