The task is straight-forward, if not remotely simple, for Sporting Kansas City. They must beat the Houston Dynamo at their own game on Wednesday as badly as they were beaten at theirs in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
As much as Sporting KC complained about the tactics the Dynamo employed during their 2-0 win on Saturday, it all must have seemed quite familiar. The tight marking, the contesting of every pass, the constant clicking at their heals. It's all the stuff that Sporting KC has been doing with so much success during a season in which they've already claimed the U.S. Open Cup and earned the East's No. 1 seed.
For all their efforts, though, it must have been frustrating to draw the one opponent in the field who likes to do so much of what they do. In their last five meetings, dating back to last year's Eastern Conference final, the Dynamo have a 3-0-2 advantage and have outscored Kansas City 7-2. Even at Livestrong Sporting Park, the Dynamo have gone 1-0-2.
Somehow, Sporting KC needs to flip the script in rather dramatic fashion.
To do that, though, they'll need a performance quite unlike any they've put together this year. As much attention as their 7-0-0 start to the season received, it was maybe overlooked that this team has never been quite as dominant as some of the pundits would have you believe. Yes, they've been very good at playing an aggressive brand of soccer that creates turnovers and frustrates their opponents, but they've also managed to avoid playing from behind or really having to open up their offense.
Kansas City has only scored three goals in a game twice this season and they haven't done it all since July 4. As weird as this may sound, they also failed to win a single game by more than two goals this year.
On paper, Kansas City would seem to have the fire power to make that happen. In CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi they have three of the more dynamic offensive players in the league. But all three were also held mostly in check during Leg 1.
Zusi, who led MLS with 15 assists, was able to complete just 22 of 45 passes and lost possession 26 times. Sapong was largely marked out of the game, logging just two shots, only one of which was on frame. Kamara at least was active, doing a solid job of winning balls, but he was mostly pushed outside of the penalty area as well.
This all plays right into the hands of the Dynamo, who will surely be more than happy to sit back and protect their hard-fought victory.