MLS Playoffs – Western Conference Semifinals
Who: Sporting Kansas City (12-14-8, 8th seed, 44 pts) at Houston Dynamo FC (14-11-9, 4th seed, 51 pts)
When: Sunday, Nov. 26 | 6 p.m. CT (6:09 kickoff)
Where: Shell Energy Stadium | Houston, Texas
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Sporting Kansas City heads south to face a longtime Texas rival. The Houston Dynamo FC plays host to Sporting KC on Sunday evening in the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals. The winner of the single elimination match will advance to the Western Conference Final.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for SKC after starting the first ten games winless. Sporting KC built on each result, slowly climbing up the standings as they got healthier and stronger, finally qualifying for the playoffs on the last day.
Sporting KC entered the playoffs as the 8th seed. SKC had to advance past San Jose via a penalty shootout in the Wild Card match. Sporting KC earned some revenge on their cross-state rivals when they easily swept St. Louis in two straight matches (4-1, 2-1).
Houston made a dramatic turnaround from 2022 when they finished 13th with just 36 points. Veteran coach Ben Olsen took over this season and was able to lift them to 4th place in the Western Conference with 51 points. The Dynamo have been dominant at home with an 11-2-4 record.
Olsen’s squad had the home-field advantage when they faced 5th seed Real Salt Lake in the first round of the playoffs. It took all three matches in the best-of-three first round to determine a winner. Houston won the first match 2-1 but the match in Salt Lake and back at home were both 1-1 draws that were determined in penalty shootouts. The home side took the victory in both cases.
Sporting KC vs Houston Dynamo
Kansas City and Houston faced each other three times already in 2023. The first meeting was in May at Houston for the U.S. Open Cup. SKC was just starting to get on the right side in MLS play, was in the middle of fixture congestion and played a reserve-heavy lineup. After Houston scored early, SKC dominated possession and gained a man advantage in the 35th minute. Despite out shooting the Dynamo, SKC could not find and equalizer.
The second meeting was in MLS play in July. Alan Pulido was back and finding his form for that match. The Mexican national scored in the 25th minute and added a goal from the spot in the 62nd. Houston was resilient at home, clawing back an equalizer in stoppage time of both halves to earn a 2-2 draw.
The third meeting was back in Kansas City and was another dramatic affair. Captain Johnny Russell put a penalty home in the 7th minute and then earned a red card in the 39th. Wily Agada doubled the lead in the 45th +6 minute but again the Dynamo bounced back with a goal in the 45th +9. Houston dominated the second half with the man advantage but could not find the net. SKC held on for the 2-1 win.
Houston’s only loss since the middle of July was versus Kansas City. Houston has not lost in their last nine home matches across all competitions and hs allowed the fewest goals at home (11) of any team during the regular season.
Historic rivalry in playoffs
The Dynamo have mostly dominated Kansas City in the playoffs since they relocated from San Jose to Houston prior to the 2006 season. Houston beat the Kansas City Wizards in the 2007 Conference Final (HOU 2, KC 0) and Sporting KC in the 2011 Conference Final (HOU 2, SKC 0). Again in the 2012 Conference Semifinals by an aggregate (HOU 2, SKC 1). Houston also took the win in the 2017 Knockout Round (HOU 1, SKC 0).
The 2013 season was different, Sporting KC reversed the score and won the 2013 Conference Semifinals by an aggregate (SKC 2, HOU 1). Once they overcame the Houston hurdle, SKC went on to win the 2013 MLS Cup.
SKC defender Aurelien Collin was the star of the 2013 MLS Cup, scoring the loan Sporting KC goal in regulation, avoided a potential red and then scored the last goal in the penalties to secure the MLS Cup victory.
Collin is now an assistant coach under Ben Olsen in Houston.
Vermes vs Olsen
While Olsen is the first-year head coach of Houston, he is one of four individuals to have played and/or coached in 600 matches in MLS history along with Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes.
Olsen took over DC United in 2010 and compiled a 117-75-139 with a 35% win percentage through the 2020 season. In that time he led DC to win the 2013 US Open Cup.
Vermes took over Sporting KC near the end of 2009. He has led the Wizards/Sporting KC to a 238-132-187 record with a 42.7% winning record, the 2013 MLS Cup and the 2012, 2015 and 2017 US Open Cups.
Coach thoughts on the match:
“You have to be real honest, you have to know that you are playing away from home. The other team feels very comfortable there. The odds are in favor of the home team, that’s the way it is in our sport. We have to know that going in, it’s going to be a very difficult match. We have to go in with the mentality it’s a final, not just a regular game. It’s a final and we have to play it as such,” Peter Vermes explained.
When asked how the long break will affect the match, Vermes responded, “That’s probably the most difficult thing. I mean out of all of it, having a break was good for some certain reasons but other reasons it’s not so good. Twenty one days, it’s a lot of time, my biggest concern would be the way the team tries to get into the flow and the rhythm of the game. I’m hoping that we can do that early but if we can’t, then we have to just suffer a little bit while we get there.”
“Establishing ourselves, feeling good and getting back into that rhythm. It’s going to be important for us,” Vermes added.
Sporting Kansas City
DEF – Kortne Ford (Achilles Surgery)
MID – Felipe Gutierrez (Knee Injury)
DEF – Logan Ndenbe (Torn ACL)
DEF – Kayden Pierre (Hamstring Injury)
DEF – Dany Rosero (Facial Injury)
Note: Rosero did appear in practice.
Ifunanyachi Achara – Knee
Tate Schmitt – Knee
Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
Assistant ref: Ian McKay
Assistant ref: Jeffrey Greeson
4th official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Carol Anne Chenard