Familiarity breeds contempt, but Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo don’t need games two weeks apart to fuel the clubs’ burgeoning rivalry.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
“It doesn’t matter if it’s regular season or the playoffs,” defender Lawrence Olum said. “Whenever we play, every game with Houston is a battle.”
Obviously, Sporting KC, which plays host to the Dynamo at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in a nationally televised game on NBC Sports Network, doesn’t need to be reminded that Houston ended its season the last two years.
Manager Peter Vermes’ club remembers better than anyone the 2-0 loss in the 2011 Eastern Conference final and a 2-1 aggregate loss in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Of course, the Dynamo, whose 36-match home unbeaten streak across all competitions was snapped May 12 when Sporting KC handed Houston its first loss at BBVA Compass Stadium, isn’t lacking for motivation either.
The Dynamo were thoroughly manhandled during the second leg of November’s playoff series, getting outshot 20-3 and controlling less than 30 percent of the possession.
Houston still advanced, but by the skin of its teeth and, coupled with the victory two weeks ago, Sporting KC may very well have grabbed a psychological edge in the increasingly heated series.
With both teams a good bet to reach the postseason once again, Sporting KC could use another strong showing against its playoff tormenter, especially in a tight Eastern Conference race.
“Both teams have a very good understanding of each other — how we play and what the motivation is,” Vermes said. “At the same time, for us, we’re back at home and I view points against your conference team as six-point swings. We’ve been pretty good against conference teams so far and we want to try and continue in that same vein.”
Entering the weekend, Sporting KC, 6-4-3, led Houston, 6-4-2, by one point in the standings. The New York Red Bulls sit in first place with 24 points, three more than two-time reigning regular-season conference champion Sporting KC.
Vermes believes he’s starting to see consistency — of performance, if not results — from his club, which drew 1-1 at D.C. United last time out.
Meanwhile, the Dynamo are reeling a bit after faltering at New England
“A lot of the game depends on how we play,” Vermes said. “If we’re locked in and we play every roll of the ball, we give ourselves a good chance to get ourselves a result. … Do they maybe have a little extra zest in them based on what happened at their place? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s going to change the game so much.”
In other words, Sporting KC will have to earn another win if it wants to send Houston to its first three-game losing skid since Sept. 5-22, 2010 — a span that concluded with a 4-3 loss against the then-Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
“Being in KC now, the rivalry that’s been brewing the last couple years is cool to be part of,” defender Ike Opara said. “We know it’s never going to be easy. Minute one through 90, it’s going to be a battle.”