All things considered, you might figure that Sporting Kansas City would be satisfied with a draw at BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday night. But that’s not how Peter Vermes’ team thinks, or how their rivalry with the Dynamo works.
Even though a point from the game (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) would on the face of it seem like a good result for the under-strength visitors against an in-form Houston, the Dynamo are expecting SKC to go all-out for victory.
Win: it is each team’s philosophy every time they step out on the field, and the thirst for victory only intensifies whenever Houston and Sporting meet in what has become one of the best rivalries in MLS.
It’s a recipe full of spicy ingredients: their regular battles to be the best in the Eastern Conference, their uncompromising styles of play and their frequent postseason encounters. Add in Sporting’s victory at BBVA Compass Stadium back in May, and the fact that there are only three games left in the campaign, and it’s clear that regular season fixtures don’t come much bigger than this.
SKC are second in the East, four points clear of the third-placed Dynamo. A day after last Friday’s 1-0 win for Houston over the Montreal Impact, SKC beat the Columbus Crew by the same score. That result all but ended the Crew’s playoff hopes while giving SKC reason to believe they can still catch the leaders, the New York Red Bulls.
“They pulled out a great win to push them up, it was a gutsy win from what I saw. Columbus was an opponent that’s pushing for points. Kansas City takes advantage of a set piece and defends really well,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
“They’re possibly maybe missing some guys here but I think that those three points were a great comfort for those guys and they don’t ever go anywhere to not win. Their attitude is always good, we know it’s going to be a tough game. They’re always good games against these guys, tough and very competitive.”
While the Dynamo are missing center back Jermaine Taylor and winger Boniek García because of international duty, Sporting will be without their key playmaker, Graham Zusi, and one of the central components of their much-vaunted back line, defender Matt Besler. Both are on U.S. national team duty.
This is a match that could be a postseason preview: if the teams end the year in their current positions, they will meet in the conference semi-finals. That is precisely what happened last year, with the Dynamo prevailing 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Sporting exacted some revenge last May when they beat the Dynamo 1-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium with a late goal by Aurelien Collin, and that was a painful experience that only adds to the lore and intensity of the rivalry.
“Obviously, Sporting, we’ve got a little bit of a rivalry against them, it’s one game that sticks out to me that we want to win,” said winger Andrew Driver. “They came here and beat us and celebrated so I think that’s stuck in our minds. They’re a bit tasty, these games, they’re the ones you look forward to. Every game from now till the end of the season is a massive game for us.”
Defender Bobby Boswell is expecting a feisty evening. “We’ve got to go out and be ready for a team that’s always up for the battle against us, they’re always up for the challenge and we remember them celebrating beating us here, that was a huge win for them I think and they acted like it at least. For us, we’ve got to learn from the mistakes we made that game and keep riding this good wave of soccer that we’ve been playing lately,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
“The biggest thing you take away from those games is the mistakes that were made, the mentality—you look at how you prepared and what happened in the game, why were we not successful, and you try to correct that. I always say successful teams have short memories.
“You learn from the games both good and bad and then you forget them because you’re only as good as your last game … you can’t really harp on the bad too long because you’ll never get out of it, and you can’t think that you’re the best either because someone’s right there to knock you down.”
For Boswell, the right approach is a mixture of passion and pragmatism: knowing that this is a match where passions will run high, but putting it in context. Regardless of the storylines this match-up generates, and the drama it inspires, the target for the Dynamo is no different now than it was on the opening day of the season: finish as high as possible in the East to ensure the best possible seeding in the playoffs.
“Every game moving forward dictates where we’ll be in a couple of weeks. Obviously the bit of history we have with them, that makes it a little added excitement for the media, but for us in this locker room it’s a chance to distance ourselves from the teams behind us and maybe gain on the teams ahead of us,” he said.
“We’ve got to go out and continue to do what we’ve done in the last couple of games that’s made us successful, but in a way push even harder because everyone’s coming down to the end and it’s such a tight race that no one’s going to have it easy in the last couple of games. It’s all about moving up to get to the highest possible position.”