Sporting Kansas City will try today to boldly go where no visiting MLS team has been able to go — the win column at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Dating back to the Dynamo’s days playing at the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium, coach Dominic Kinnear’s squad is unbeaten in 33 league matches at home (24-0-9), including three playoff victories.
Sporting KC, 5-4-2, is well aware of Houston’s home dominance, which includes a 2-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, but coach Peter Vermes’ squad can’t afford to dwell on it.
“You’ve got to take those thoughts out of your head,” Sporting KC captain and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said. “I’m sure when the game starts, nobody will really be thinking about them being unbeaten at home.”
That’s probably a good thing, because the Dynamo, 6-2-2, which is tied atop the Eastern Conference standings with the New York Red Bulls, is playing some fantastic soccer, including back-to-back road wins at the LA Galaxy (1-0) and D.C. United (4-0).
So, Sporting KC can’t be consumed by the fact that the Dynamo is 17-0-7 all-time in MLS matches at BBVA Compass Stadium and 4-0-1 so far in 2013.
It can’t enter their minds that Houston has outscored its opponents 45-16 at home since the new stadium opened exactly one year ago — May 12, 2012.
“Obviously, they’ve made it a fortress and done exceptionally well there,” Vermes said. “A couple weeks ago, I was talking to Dom (Houston coach Dominic Kinnear) on the phone and told him what a great job he’s done and his team has done defending their home turf.”
That said, the Dynamo is going to lose at home eventually, and Sporting KC understandably would relish being the club to do it.
“We certainly respect Houston, but we can’t be afraid of going there because they’re unbeaten,” Nielsen said. “And I promise you, they will not be unbeaten there forever. Somebody will have to be the first to defeat them there, and we’ll go down and take our chance to be the first one.”
Why not? Houston, which also knocked Sporting KC from the playoffs in 2011 with a 2-0 win in the Eastern Conference final at Sporting Park, has become perhaps the club’s biggest rival.
“We’ve lost to them two years in a row (in the playoffs), so it’s a rival that’s become a little special for Sporting KC,” centerback Aurelien Collin said. “Every time we play Houston, it’s going to be a big battle, a big challenge for us.”
Vermes just doesn’t want his club getting caught up in trying to make history or seeking revenge.
“Someone has to be the first (to beat Houston at home), and I’d love to be the first. But we’re not after that aspect,” Vermes said. “Right now, it’s about performing, it’s about playing well, it’s about getting results and continuing to get better as a team.”
Despite a loss Wednesday on Djimi Traore’s 94th-minute goal against Seattle, Sporting KC has recovered nicely after hiccups against the LA Galaxy and Portland.
“It was a loss (versus the Sounders), but we had this hunger we didn’t play with a couple games before Chivas,” Collin said. “Chivas was a good game. Seattle was a good game. I think we’re going to keep the same mentality and correct the little details. Then, we’ll be good.”
Good enough to win in Houston? That remains to be seen.
“It’s two teams in the same division and two teams that will be in the playoffs,” Nielsen said. “We’ve got to fight for the position at the top of our division. We play them three times, so there’s nine points out there. Every game matters, but games in our division matter a tiny bit more. We just have to go down there and be brave.”