For the third year running (and the fourth time in six years) Kansas City's path to the MLS Cup will go through the Houston Dynamo.
The end result has always been heartache.
The memories are so fresh, many Sporting KC fans won't need their memories jogged. The names alone are enough to send cold shivers. Carlo Costly. Adam Moffatt. Will Bruin. Brad Davis.
And here we are again.
Will this year be any different? If Kansas City wants to make — and host — the MLS Cup Final it will have to be.
Here are the tactical questions looming over this matchup.1. Is this the year that Peter Vermes solves Dominic Kinnear's tactical game plan?
Kinnear has personally had Vermes' number, essentially setting the blueprint for handling Kansas City's high-pressure system in 2011. (Play deep, push the play wide, isolate the central forward and muck everything up in the middle of the park.)
But results this season were tilted to Kansas City. In the three matches, Kansas City went 1-0-2 including handing the Dynamo its first MLS loss at BBVA Compass Stadium. The two teams drew 1-1 in Kansas City and, in the third match in late October, drew 0-0 in Houston.
We might have gotten a peak already this year at how Vermes will set up the team for the difficult first leg in Houston. Kansas City played against type in both games.
In both matches, Kansas City ceded possession to the Dynamo (55% to 44% in the win, 60% to 40% in the draw). For the season, Sporting KC averaged 55 percent possession (50% on the road).
Kansas City also turned in below average numbers in shots (11 and 4; season average: 15) and passing accuracy (61% and 64%: season average: 78%).
Some of that can be credited to Houston being a good home team with a stout defense and a ball-control offense.
But it also shows Kansas City have been selectively pragmatic in its approach to playing Houston this year: protecting the back line, looking for counter-attack chances and relying on set-piece work.
How did KC score it's only goal this year in Houston? Off a Seth Sinovic long throw.