The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs return to Houston on Thursday as the Houston Dynamo begin their 2017 run in the Knockout Round (8:30 p.m. | TICKETS). A familiar foe will welcome back the Dynamo to the MLS postseason.
Sporting Kansas City will be the Dynamo’s opposition for the fifth time in the playoffs, with the winner advancing to MLS Cup in each of the previous meetings. The two sides recently faced each other twice – home and away – in the last 16 days and the Dynamo are unbeaten in their last eight league encounters with SKC.
No encounter, however, may be more important than the next one.
“It’s the most important game of the year for us,” said head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “We have played recently, twice, so it’s going to be a tougher match. It’s an opportunity and it’s a possibility to continue playing in a playoff situation or go for vacation and we don’t want to go for vacation and for sure they don’t want to.”
This past weekend was pivotal for the Dynamo, as a 3-0 win over Chicago Fire and a 2-1 Kansas City loss at Real Salt Lake meant the teams flip-flopped in the standings and moved this match to Houston, where the Dynamo finished 12-1-4 in the regular season. The win also extended the Dynamo’s unbeaten run to six – matching their best run of the year – making them the hottest team in the West.
After missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the Dynamo have been longing for postseason play. They don’t want the season to end here.
“Happy for the year that we have had but we have to finish it in the best way,” said forward Alberth Elis. “I think the matchup is even. The advantage we have is that we are at home and we have to make it count.”
On the defensive end, the Dynamo took a hit on Sunday as A.J. DeLaGarza – second in minutes played for the club this season – seffered a torn ACL that will sideline him for the playoffs. Jalil Anibaba, a former SKC defender, was his replacement in that match and is ready to go again if called upon on Thursday.
Everyone on both sides will be ready to go, quite frankly, as a rivalry renews in the winner-take-all format of the Knockout Round. In the event of a draw, two extra time periods will be played – with a fourth substitution allowed for the 2017 playoffs – and a penalty shootout will decide the winner if one hasn’t been decided by the end of extra time.
“This [rivalry] is known and felt and is going to continue,” said Cabrera. “In soccer, every day a story has to be written, every match is written a different way. We can’t refer to what has happened, we have to write the story and Thursday is an opportunity to, in 90 or 120 minutes, write the story once more for the Houston Dynamo.”