They are the hottest two teams in the playoffs, riding momentum of results that has now set them up for a massive collision on their way to the MLS Cup.
When the Houston Dynamo travel to battle Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference championship game on Sunday, they will face the last team to deal them a defeat, a 3-0 blanking back on September 10 in Kansas City.
“We didn’t get a great result last time,” Dynamo forward Brian Ching said. “But we’re a different team now, and hopefully we can come out of there and head to the final.”
Since that loss - a game which included the debut off the bench of Brazilian midfielder Luiz Camargo - the Dynamo have gone 6-0-2, including the two victories in the home-and-home playoff series against the Philadelphia Union. Sporting, meanwhile, have mustered a similar run, going 5-0-2 in their last seven matches, including twin 2-0 results to dispatch the defending champion Colorado Rapids in the other Eastern Conference semifinal. Kansas City also has four shutouts in a row.
“They are an extremely dangerous team and a team with a lot of confidence that has a great record at home,” said Ching in reference to Sporting’s 10-2-6 mark at Livestrong Sporting Park since its opening in June. “They put their first-round opponent [defending champion Colorado Rapids] away decisively. They’re a team with a lot of confidence, just like us. We have to stay organized. They play with five in midfield, and we definitely have to be prepared for that.”
What will give the Dynamo confidence ahead of the road trip is the fact that they have won their last three road matches, including the first-leg playoff win over Philadelphia at PPL Park. The three successive away wins were the first of the season for Dominic Kinnear’s men after starting the season winless in their first 15 road trips.
“I think we’re going to play our game,” Houston defender Geoff Cameron said. “I don’t think we’re going to adapt to their style. We’re going to adjust going in there and play our game. We lost a lot of that when we went there [September 10], but we have a lot of confidence going, we feel good in the back, the midfield is excellent, and Brian Ching is Brian Ching.”
The 3-0 loss in September for Houston featured a 64th-minute red card to Dynamo forward Carlo Costly, leaving the Dynamo with 10 men when the score was still 1-0. By the end of the match, Sporting’s Teal Bunbury had two goals and his teammate Graham Zusi had two assists.
But clearly this is a different Houston team.
“Three months ago, if you told us we would be at this point, with a chance to move on to the final, we would probably look at you with a bit of disbelief,” Ching said. “We are going to continue this run, and I would love to see this team make it to the final.”