About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
A thrilling extra time finish featuring the returns of Claudio Bieler and Benny Feilhaber to the lineup has given Sporting Kansas City an energy heading into the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals. However the extra thirty minutes played on Wednesday may hurt some of the players who were dogging it at the end of the game, such as a visibly tired Benny Feilhaber. This may change the lineup from Wednesday and Vermes may put together some pieces of his depth to fit into the puzzle of his lineup. We have no word whether Peterson Joseph will be available or not but we do know that Lawrence Olum will not. Their defense will have to be careful since every defender save for Matt Besler is one yellow card away from missing the next match.
In an equally thrilling manner the Houston Dynamo went on the road, tied the series and won in New York in extra time. This had to be a confidence boost for the Dynamo but the extra thirty minutes they played cannot have helped them. Saturday will be their seventh match in 21 days due to a combination of competitions. They will also be without star left back Corey Ashe due to yellow card accumulation , leaving them with a weakness on that side. The good news for the Dynamo is they have been nearly unbeatable at home this year, coming in with a 10-4-5 record including two playoff matches. The bad news is that their opponent was one of those losses.
Who to watch for
Sporting Kansas City- Soony Saad
Soony Saad didn't get many minutes on Wednesday which means he will be one of the few players on either side that has fresher legs. I think Vermes is going to use Saad's ability to help exploit the weakness left by Corey Ashe not being able to play. If Sporting can effectively put pressure on that side and force opportunities through Saad on the left side then they're going to get more opportunities to score. As we know from last year, it is vitally important to stay within striking distance of the aggregate total when going on the road for the first leg. Saad will be called on to make sure that happens.
Houston Dynamo- Omar Cummings
There's something to be said for being clutch. Two times in two playoff games Omar Cummings came on late in the match as a substitute. He scored in stoppage time in the first leg to keep the series tied headed into New York, then he scored the series winner in extra time in the second leg. The biggest thing that Cummings brings is a set of fresh legs that have been on a roll as of late and could do some late damage to Sporting Kansas City, especially if the defenders are being cautious trying not to earn any more yellow cards.
How they will Win
Sporting Kansas City
As said in the Soony Saad paragraph, the loss of Corey Ashe is going to be huge for the Dynamo. That takes out a very quality defender and allows for a weakness to be exploited. Sporting KC is going to need to pressure the left side and force chances through the side of the box. We saw Sporting score twice against New England when they capitalized on an opening on the side of the box and now Houston is giving them a prime opportunity to do it again. This is also why I am a proponent of Bieler starting this match because we could see Saad beat the left side defender and get a ball in for Bieler, who will then be able to score.
Seth Sinovic, Aurelien Collin and Chance Myers are all one yellow card away from missing the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals. They're not going to do anything stupid to get themselves a card and may sit back and try to be less physical as a result. The Dynamo forwards are going to have to force the back line to be physical and to make mistakes. If Will Bruin and Giles Barnes can goad one of the defenders into a dilemma then one of two things will happen: Either they earn a yellow card and miss the second leg or they sit back in fear of earning that card and allow a Dynamo opportunity to score. The Dynamo are going to have to take advantage of this.
Sporting Kansas City: Nielsen, Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Rosell, Nagamura, Zusi, Saad, Bieler, Sapong
Houston Dynamo: Hall - Creavalle, Brunner, Boswell, Sarkodie - Davis, Clark, Garcia, Driver - Barnes, Bruin
Sporting Kansas City 1-0 Houston Dynamo