Houston Dynamo's Kofi Sarkodie is no stranger to home unbeaten streaks
With the Dynamo aiming to create a piece of home history on Sunday against the Chicago Fire, no one is better qualified to talk about unbeaten streaks than Kofi Sarkodie.
The defender only turned 22 last month, yet the Dynamo's record-equaling undefeated run is the second such streak of his career.
"Refuse to lose" is a mantra the Dynamo have lived by since June 18, 2011, the date of their last competitive home defeat. A win or draw against the Fire on Sunday and Houston will surge beyond Real Salt Lake's tally of 34 to set a new MLS record for successive unbeaten home matches in all competitions.
Also at stake is the record in MLS regular season games alone, which the Dynamo could tie on Sunday. Houston are unbowed in 28 consecutive home games on their own turf, one behind Salt Lake's mark.
Sarkodie's personal unbeaten run goes back even deeper. He did not lose a competitive home game at college. As a member of Caleb Porter's mighty University of Akron side, Sarkodie did not taste defeat on campus from his freshman debut in 2008 to his last game for the Zips in 2010.
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The Ohio native was a key figure on Akron's 2010 national championship team and featured in the bulk of the games during their NCAA-record 48-match home unbeaten streak - which included only four draws. The run began in November 2007 and lasted until November 2011.
By the time it ended, Sarkodie was wearing orange, having been chosen as the number seven overall pick in January 2011's MLS SuperDraft. He played with several current MLS members at Akron, including Steve Zakuani, Perry Kitchen, Chris Korb and Darlington Nagbe, who started for the Portland Timbers in last Saturday's 2-0 win over the Dynamo. Porter is now the Timbers' coach.
Sarkodie told HoustonDynamo.com that the secrets to a long streak include luck with injuries, squad depth, solid tactics and an unyielding collective determination that courses through the entire club.
"It comes from a really good defensive mentality, a lot of hard work and basically staying tucked in and tight when you're eleven behind the ball," he said. "It's massive when you stay injury free and you have a lot of quality players off the bench who are coming in and getting some time, it just makes the group as a whole a lot better. Also, when you're injury free it allows for a lot of continuity between the group.
"You have the belief - when you play matches you expect to win. When you have that going into a match it becomes kind of your twelfth man, it gives you a different level of confidence every time you step on the pitch, especially at home. Knowing that we haven't lost here in over 30 matches and we're going to continue to do that."
Asked whether opponents are likely to be intimidated by knowing they're entering a fortress when they step through the doors at BBVA Compass Stadium, or extra-motivated by the chance to cause a shock result, Sarkodie said that both attitudes are a factor.
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"Probably from the opponents' standpoint, naturally it'd be nice to get that win in Houston and break the streak," he said. "But I think they also look at it probably more from the standpoint that it's a very tough place to play. Some people call it the cauldron, especially over the summer when it's so hot.
"I think they know it's a difficult place to get a result so maybe they come here and do their best to maybe take a more defensive shape against us and try to get a draw. But sometimes when you do that it also makes the game a little more difficult, especially when you have talented guys on our team that are going for it, making things dangerous in the attack."
A United States under-23 international, Sarkodie made seven starts in his rookie season with the Dynamo and is now established as the first-choice right back.
"We've got a good opportunity right now at home on Sunday against Chicago to bounce back and to capitalize on our home games, and that's what we've been doing for the past two years. That's the plan and hopefully we'll continue to do that on Sunday," he said.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian as well as SI.com.