The Major League Soccer conference finals are two-leg series with the lower-seeded team playing host for the first leg. The winner will be determined on aggregate scoring over the two legs. If the teams are tied after 180 minutes, a 30-minute overtime period (split into two 15-minute halves) will be played immediately following the second game. A penalty kick shootout will follow if the score is still tied. MLS will observe the FIFA international break from Nov. 11 to Nov. 19 and will resume play on Nov. 23-24.
Eastern Conference final: Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo
• When/where: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston
• TV: NBC (Ch. 41)
• ABOUT HOUSTON (14-11-9, 51 points): Never get involved in a land war in Asia and never wager against Dominic Kinnear in the MLS playoffs. Since the franchise began in 2006, the Dynamo under Kinnear have reached the MLS Cup four times (including the last two seasons) and have only missed the playoffs once (2010). That playoff magic continued against New York, with this year’s postseason hero, Omar Cummings, scoring another late goal, sending the Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls home early. The Houston attack will primarily come down the wings with Brad Davis and Honduran designated player Oscar Boniek Garcia. Forward Will Bruin gave Kansas City’s defenders fits last year and has scored two goals in the playoffs. Kansas City’s forwards have combined for one. The defense could be hampered without starting left back Corey Ashe (yellow-card accumulation).
• ABOUT KANSAS CITY (17-10-7, 58 points): Sporting struggled more against New England than many thought, needing extra time to finally get the goal to bounce the Revs. The winning goal finally came from an unlikely pair of out-of-favor attackers Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler (just 57 minutes between them in October). After struggling at times in the first leg, Kansas City’s defense turned in a stellar 120 minutes on Wednesday. Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic both scored in the game, but also made timely defensive stops. The midfield, which bossed around the Revs, will face a serious fitness test as neither Paulo Nagamura or Feilhaber have had to go in back-to-back matches over the last few months. Questions still remain along the forward line, though. Does Bieler’s return to scoring form get him his starting job back from the ineffective but dynamic Dom Dwyer? Will Soony Saad or C.J. Sapong start opposite Graham Zusi on the wing? Does Teal Bunbury and his exceptional pace get another shot on a tight turnaround? Peter Vermes will need to get it right in Houston, or else Kansas City could suffer the same fate as last year when Houston eliminated KC thanks to a 2-0 victory in the first leg.
• BOTTOM LINE: This will be a sloppy affair, as both teams will struggle with fitness after playing extra time on Wednesday. An ugly game could benefit both coaches. Against Kansas City the last two seasons, Kinnear has punished Sporting KC by defending deep, protecting the penalty area and pouncing on counter-attack chances. Kansas City has had a very similar approach against Houston, which helped Sporting in May to become the first MLS team to beat the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. The two teams drew the other games, 1-1 at Sporting Park in May and 0-0 in Houston in October. This could be a battle of pragmatism. That doesn’t mean it won’t be entertaining, but don’t expect either team to push the pace of this game too much. This will be Houston’s fourth game in 10 days, so, the Dynamo might try for an early first-half goal and hope to draw Kansas City out and hit them on the counter in the second half (just like last season). Kansas City, though, would be very happy to leave Houston with a draw and take its chances at Sporting Park in two weeks.
• PREDICTION: 1-1
| Charles Gooch, firstname.lastname@example.org