New conference, same commitment. The Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City lock horns at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday (7.30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) in what’s become one of the fiercest matchups in MLS.
It is the first of three meetings between the clubs this season. A rivalry that had its genesis in the teams’ habitual jostling for supremacy in the Eastern Conference has now switched to the Western Conference, where both are among five sides on nine points at this early stage in the campaign.
“I think we know the competitive edge between the two clubs,” the Dynamo’s Scotland-born head coach, Owen Coyle, told reporters. “I certainly understand rivalries … It’s slightly different back home because our derbies normally take place between clubs within a ten mile radius,” he smiled.
While it’s an 800-mile drive from Houston to Kansas City, equivalent to a round-trip between London and Glasgow, there’s not usually much of a gap between the two teams on the field. Last year, Peter Vermes’s side won 2-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium but the Dynamo pulled off a 3-1 victory at Sporting Park in the return fixture.
The rivalry spawned and gained momentum from the intensity and importance of three successive postseason meetings from 2011 to 2013. The Dynamo triumphed in the first two but SKC edged the Eastern Conference final two years ago, going on to claim MLS Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over Real Salt Lake. The teams had met once more in the 2007 Western Conference Finals, making Kansas City the Dynamo's most frequent postseason opponent to date.
Sporting lost 2-1 last week on the road to 2014’s champions, the LA Galaxy, snapping a four-match unbeaten streak. Coyle felt the result was harsh. “The performance was certainly worthy of a positive result so we know they’ll come in good heart and they’ve got good players on the pitch so it’s going to be a tough game,” he said.
During the offseason, SKC re-signed Honduran midfielder Roger Espinoza, who played under Coyle in England for Wigan Athletic in 2013. “They’re a very good side. Very good individual players within a collective team effort so we know they bring lots of quality, lots of energy and similar to the rest of the MLS games, every game’s a tough game so we know that we’re going to have to be at our best,” Coyle said.
Former Dynamo midfielder Servando Carrasco will be making his return to BBVA Compass Stadium. He has started the past four matches for SKC.
New Dynamo signing Alex will be hoping to make his debut. The 26-year-old midfielder joined from the Chicago Fire last week in a trade that saw forward Jason Johnson go the other way. “We’ve seen what we knew, he’s a very good technical player and that’s why we did the trade,” said Coyle of the Brazilian’s first full week of training in Houston.
“He can certainly add to the squad we’ve got and I’ve been pleased with the quality he’s brought to the training and I’ve been pleased with his attitude, he’s a good lad and the lads have really taken to him and that augurs well for moving forward.”
Coyle has a largely healthy roster to select from, with Boniek García the only name listed on the official injury report. He is rated as “probable” because of a left knee sprain that the head coach said was making it hard for the playmaker to twist and turn quickly.
Saturday’s is the first of a high-profile three-game homestand for the Dynamo. Next up after SKC are FC Dallas on May 1, then former Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear brings his San Jose Earthquakes to East Downtown four days later.
Coyle is looking for his team to replicate the defensive solidity and lethal finishing that saw the Montreal Impact dispatched 3-0 in the Dynamo’s previous home game. For defender Kofi Sarkodie, the season’s still young but the trio of matches at BBVA Compass Stadium is a chance for the side to get into a groove that will last throughout the year.
“Finding that consistency at home and building on that, that’s really what we’re looking for. The season’s long but it’s developing that discipline in the back line, the midfield and up front, creating the style of play that we want is going to get us consistent results,” he said.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.