Since I'm now more than 24 hours from the start of last night's match, I'm not exactly breaking news by reporting that Sporting Kansas City dispatched the visiting Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup last night. I'll have to settle for being the first to observe: that match was so Dynamo. I was there with a sobbing child when Houston eliminated Sporting from the MLS playoffs back in 2011. Houston played cynical but effective soccer that night, and a rivalry was born while Brad Davis and his orange clad friends celebrated in Sporting Park. Since then, Sporting seemed to have had the last laugh over the Dynamo by lifting the MLS Cup in 2013. With Dominic Kinnear leaving Houston to coach San Jose, I thought the rivalry was going to fizzle out.
The error in my thinking was clear from the very beginning of the match.
The Dynamo of a few years ago would grab you and foul you and take yellow cards to stop Sporting's counter attack. They would foul hard to get into Sporting's heads. The uglier the game, the happier Houston was. They would slow the game as much as possible until a Brad Davis set piece yielded a goal, and from there they would begin wasting time in earnest.
True to form, last night the Dynamo came out with a strong commitment to tactical fouling and a single-minded devotion to clogging the midfield. Their high defensive line and disciplined formation left Sporting's dynamic midfielders a meer 15 congested yards in which to work, so we were reduced to a string of speculative long balls that never quite found Dom instead of our preferred creative attack though Benny & Friends.
True to tradition, however, one of those hard Houston fouls went too far. Garrido was sent off for a terrible studs-up tackle. Also true to the script from a few seasons back, Sporting couldn't take advantage of being up a man before a Davis corner kick gave the Dynamo a 0-1 lead. As every Houston player took his turn wasting time by nursing phantom injuries, the situation looked grim. When Dom's penalty kick was saved, the situation looked even grimmer. It felt a lot like a game against the Dynamo from years gone by, and that wasn't a good feeling.
The thing is, this incarnation of Sporting is tougher than the Sporting team that used to lose to Houston's shenanigans. This Sporting team has Benny Feilhaber. Benny willed the team to win. After the poorly taken penalty, Benny attacked the Houston defense with a ferocity that would be called in to the US Men's National Team by any sane coach. After Benny leveled the score, the crowd came to life and both teams and every fan knew it was only a matter of time before Sporting was going to net the winner. I feared we would have to go to extra time for the win, but I didn't doubt the outcome. Happily, Dom and Nemeth decided to just wrap the win up in regulation and scored a pair of goals in the waning minutes to put the game away. Our weary legs didn't have to run an extra 30 minutes.
Last year's team would have lost that game. The Dynamo's cynical strategy of foul and time waste and nip a set piece would have done us in.
This year's team refused to lose. That's 9 wins in a row at home across all competitions, a shocking number for a sport with a lot of draws. I don't doubt that I'll see my team lose at home this season, but it hasn't happened yet.
We now host Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup semifinals on August 12, but first we have to return to Salt Lake City for a league match this Friday. That's a tough draw on short rest, but this team's plenty tough.