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Sporting KC at Houston Dynamo: Playoff Preview

It all comes down to this.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Sporting KC Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Houston Dynamo (#HOUvSKC)

Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 8:30 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | Unimas

For the fourth straight year Sporting Kansas City will be forced to start the MLS Cup Playoffs on the road. For the last three years, they were eliminated in that game (twice by the eventual champions). This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

When you look back at this chart, Sporting KC were above the 5th seed (where they currently sit) for nearly the entire season and didn’t drop down that low until Decision Day. Lots of different thing probably contributed to the club falling to this point.

The most obvious is their last five games. It’s their longest win-less streak of the season (0-3-2). Of those games, Tim Melia missed about three and a half of them. So that could be it. Also, as we detailed way back in May, Sporting are too reliant on their starters. They played their Starting XI into the ground and that could have contributed to the late season collapse. A collapse that’s all too familiar.

Whatever has caused the slump, it’s come, once again, at the absolute worst time. For a team to be successful in the playoffs they need to be getting hot, not slumping.

Houston are in quite the different form. In their last five they are unbeaten, going 3-0-2. In that time they hold a home win over Sporting and held SKC to a draw in Children’s Mercy Park.

Not only are the Dynamo surging, but they’ve been quite good at home. Like SKC, they only have a single home loss which came shockingly to lowly Colorado. They are 12-1-4 at home and to make matters worse they’ve scored at least two goals in 15 of their 17 home matches.

Sporting KC on the other hand are 2-8-7 on the road and have scored one goal or less in 15 of their 17 road matches. It’s really the story of 2017. Sporting cannot score enough goals. They are 18th in the league in goals per game (1.18) compared to Houston’s 5th place ranking (1.68).

And while Sporting do boast the best goals against average (0.85 per game), Houston are pretty good themselves coming in at 1.32 per game, which is 6th best in the league. To make matters worse for KC, while Houston have allowed 45 goals this season, only 17 were allowed at home. Just one per game. Oh, and Tim Melia isn’t playing, so the average in Andrew Dykstra’s three starts is 1.33 per game, not to mention he also let one in for the brief time he played against Minnesota.

The one positive in all this goals scored and allowed talk is that the advanced statistic, expected goals (xG) is actually on Sporting’s side. They have the best xGD in the league. But expected goals and actual goals are a very different thing. For their match with Real Salt Lake on Sunday, RSL had an xG of 1.47 to Sporting’s 2.03. Actual score, RSL 2, SKC 1. They really just need a few lucky bounces.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Cameron Porter (broken fibula and ligament damage in right ankle), Tim Melia (Hamstring Strain), Soony Saad (heel injury)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Houston

OUT: George Malki (torn ACL), Memo Rodriguez (right knee sprain), A.J. DeLaGarza (torn left ACL)

QUESTIONABLE: Phillipe Senderos (right adductor strain), Romell Quioto (hamstring injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Kevin Ellis (technically Ellis and the team have agreed he’ll step away temporarily)

Houston - None

Recent Form

Sporting KC - Last Five: L/D/L/D/L (2 Points)

Houston - Last Five: D/W/W/D/W (9 Points) <— four of which were against SKC

Leading Scorers

  • Sporting KC: Gerso Fernandes (8), Diego Rubio (6) Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, (5), Latif Blessing, Daniel Salloi (3)
  • Houston: Erick Torres (14), Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas (10), Romell Quioto (7)

Starting XI Predictions

Houston and Sporting have played two times in the last two weeks. The first time, several players were off on international duty, so we’ll discount that lineup. The next time, this is the lineup Sporting put out.

While that game was both at home and ended in a 0-0 draw, there is something to be pulled from it. No, it’s not to start Cristian Lobato at left back. While ultimately Peter Vermes got away with it, he got beat defensively several times. What he did do was have the pace to deal with Elis’ speed. Seth Sinovic was flat out in the wrong position for the Brooks Lennon goal against RSL and I believe that costs him the start.

Instead I would move Jimmy Medranda back to left back to deal with the pace of Elis. That opens up the right wing spot and despite not finishing well as of late, the only real choices are Gerso or Blessing. I truly believe that Gerso is spent (as evidence by PV not even putting him on in the last Houston game when they desperately needed a goal). Latif is a workhorse who will run hard for all 90 (or 120) minutes.

Putting Blessing in for Medranda at right wing shouldn’t hurt the offense from there and still having Medranda as a left back who can get forward and create should result in lots of opportunities. Maybe not the 27 shots generated two weeks ago, but lots of chances. To add to that, the Dynamo will be without right back AJ Delagarza leaving for Sporting KC player (for a year at least) Jalil Anibaba out there to be exploited by Medranda and I assume Daniel Salloi.

Starting Medranda elsewhere means that we most likely go back to our standard midfield of Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez and Benny Feilhaber. Benny has clearly lost a step this year but unless Vermes really wants to mix things up and give Kevin Oliveira his first start so Benny is available as a super sub, there aren’t really any other options.

The only other optional change would be Adrian Zendejas over Dykstra. There is no way Vermes does that, even though Dykstra has let in some soft goals. Ultimately the difference in the last meeting between these clubs in Houston was an Erik Palmer-Brown own goal and I expect he’ll be with the Swope Park Rangers again. Also, Dykstra made several fantastic saves in the second meeting between these clubs and PV is all about consistency.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Gerso, Sinovic, Musa, Mustivar, Abdul-Salaam, Oliveira

[In the fan vote you guys have Sinovic at left back over Medranda (but it was closer this time) and Gerso over Salloi on the wing. The rest is the same, though it’s worth noting a lot of you voted for Zendejas to start, though we’ve discussed why that’s not happening.]

Maybe at this point, Sporting will have figured out how to score on Tyler Deric and how to shut down the Houston offensive machine. They honestly weren’t bad in the last two meetings but their inability to win either game forced them to play this game on the road. And there is simply something about Sporting going on the road where they can’t make it work.

Their two road wins are outliers. The game against the LA Galaxy on June 25th was their last road win and they almost gave that one up late. Not to mention the Galaxy were abysmal at home this year. Their other was a shocker against the Portland Timbers all the way back on April 16th.

So that’s over four months since they went on the road and won. Everything is stacked against Sporting. It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out.

Prediction: 2-1 Houston Win

I just keep thinking back to the night of the US Open Cup when Peter Vermes gave that impassioned speech in the locker room. “This isn’t the last one this year.” I hope they dig deep and prove everyone wrong. No one expects Sporting to win, especially on the road. If they can win one road game, they’ll get at least one more home game and man this team is good at home.

Who do you think will start? Who do you think should start? And what is your prediction for an outcome? Let us know in the comments.