Notebook: Houston takes big-game mentality to KC

Playing in high-stakes matches is nothing new for the Houston Dynamo, and they will have another chance to show it come Friday.

Over the years, the club has been involved in more big games than most clubs in MLS, be they MLS Cups, playoff matches or big games down the stretch. When Houston visits Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City on Friday (7:30 pm CT, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), it will be another match to add to that list in what will now be a familiar environment.

“It’s going to be a pressure game and I think this team, we do well in places where they’re good crowds and the games mean a lot,” said defender Bobby Boswell. “We’re always up for the challenge and hopefully tomorrow night it’s no different.

“I feel like they have something to prove against us with what happened last year there and we have to go in with the mentality that we’re trying to knock them off again.”

Houston have had their share of success in Kansas City recently, with the last two trips yielding an Eastern Conference championship and a July draw.

Knowing what it takes to get the job done at Livestrong Sporting Park will be one thing on their side as the club prepares to face a team that is very similar to the one they put on the field – one that plays hard for 90 minutes, is quality on set pieces and plays a tough brand of defense.

“I find Kansas City is one of my favorite games of the year from the standpoint that there’s such a great competition between us,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “We’ve gone back and forth on a couple of games and now we’re down the stretch and these games are very important.”

Internationals return

After battling for a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake with a depleted roster, Houston will get some reinforcements against SKC. Andre Hainault, Jermaine Taylor, Je-Vaughn Watson and Boniek García are back from international duty. With those players getting back into the mix Thursday, the club will look to manage their fitness.

“We’ll have some good honest conversations with these guys so we can make sure to keep them fresh body-wise but mentally as well,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “We’ll continue to talk with them up until tomorrow afternoon.”

While Houston adds options there will be several key cogs missing, including one on the bench. Midfielder Adam Moffat, who Kinnear said would not be available, and winger Calen Carr (yellow-card accumulation) will miss the match along with the Dynamo boss as he serves a one-game suspension for his ejection against RSL.

Shutout kings face off

With the clubs playing a similar brand of quality defense, it is no surprise that the goalkeepers are tops in the league’s shutout chart. Hall and SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen are tied for the league lead in shutouts with 11 and have a Danish connection.

“Every time we play, he gives me a little rundown on Danish soccer, which is hard to follow, and he tells me where my team’s at,” said Hall, who began his pro career with Danish club Esbjerg. “I muster a few Danish words I can remember. I have a laugh with him before the game.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.