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Sporting KC provides another tough test for Houston

The Houston Dynamo could not have asked for a better start to their grueling week-long stretch against some of the best the Eastern Conference has to offer, defeating D.C. United 4-0 on Sunday. But that’s all in the past now, as the Dynamo move forward to take on Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City.

The two teams faced each other less than two weeks ago, settling for a 0-0 draw at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City on July 7. It was as tightly contested as the scoreline would suggest, with both teams finding opportunities but neither able to find the back of the net for a game winner.

Sporting KC is coming off of a 2-0 victory in Columbus against the Crew on Saturday, with goals coming from Jacob Peterson and Teal Bunbury. The victory broke a deadlock at the top of the conference table with D.C. United, giving them 36 points to United’s 33.

All-Star opponents

Sporting Kansas City will trot out three All-Star picks on Wednesday, all First XI selections by the fans. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, defender Aurélien Collin and midfielder Graham Zusi have all had outstanding years thus far and have contributed greatly to Sporting’s climb to the top of the standings.

Stingy formation

After giving up seven goals in two games near the end of June, Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear made a switch from his typical 4-4-2 formation to a 4-4-3(4-5-1) setup. The Dynamo have now played four games in the new formation, and have only allowed a single goal. In fact, since giving up the goal just after halftime on June 30 against the Philadelphia Union, Houston has played 314 minutes of shutout soccer and will look to continue that streak through Wednesday’s match.

Players to watch

1. Graham Zusi – The talented midfielder just earned his first MLS All-Star selection, so there’s no more flying under the radar for him. Zusi has the ability to play a dangerous ball from nearly any position on the pitch, during the run of play or on a set piece. His eight assists on the year are good for second most in the league. It will be important for the Dynamo midfield to keep a mark on Zusi at all times.

2. Kei Kamara – The former Dynamo man has found his groove in Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 formation, notching 26 goals in Kansas City since being traded there near the end of the 2009 season. Kamara’s pace and size troubled the Dynamo back line at times in their last meeting, and he is never afraid to test the goalkeeper.

3. Aurélien Collin – The French defender has been the anchor of Sporting’s defense since joining the team early last season, and is not afraid to get stuck in on a hard tackle. Collin, who also earned his first MLS All-Star selection, is often the target of Zusi’s free kicks due to his prowess in the air. You don’t want to lose sight of this guy in the box.

Ticket information

There are still tickets available for Wednesday’s match, including Pollo Campero 4-Packs. This deal gets you four game tickets and four Pollo Campero meal vouchers for just $69.99. Tickets can be purchased here, or by calling (713) 276-GOAL. Match time is set for 7:30 p.m.