Sporting KC visited the Houston Dynamo on Saturday afternoon in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals, playing to a 0-0 draw. The game was sloppy, and each team looked tired. Both teams played 120 minutes in their last match. It was also Houston’s sixth match in 17 days, and Sporting KC’s fifth.
While each time was tired, the game still had plenty of opportunities for either side to take an advantage in the two game series. Sporting KC should have scored in the 14th minute. Graham Zusi was able to get into the box and find a wide open Jacob Peterson. But Peterson’s shot was very poor, and the ball trickled out for a goal kick.
Houston had a few chances to open the scoring in the first half. The first came when Kofi Sarkodie was played in behind the Sporting KC backline and slotted a shot past Jimmy Nielsen. But the assistant referee determined Sarkodie was in an offside position, and the goal was called back. Replays showed that Sarkodie was very close to being onside, but by the technical rules of the game, he was offside.
Houston almost scored again later in the first half when Boniek Garcia’s curling free kick looked to be heading to the back of the net. But Nielsen made a fantastic diving save to keep the scoreline 0-0. Nielsen was by far Sporting’s best player on the pitch Saturday afternoon. His multiple saves kept Houston off the scoresheet, which is what plagued Sporting last year in the playoffs.
Nielsen came up big in the second half with a few saves, including a powerful header from second half substitute Cam Weaver. The biggest take away from the match was the physicality of the play. Head official Kevin Stott allowed a lot of fouls to go unpunished, which led to an even more physical match that is becoming the norm when Kansas City and Houston play.
The return match will be on November 23rd at Sporting Park in Kansas City. The two week break should be enough time for either team to rest, which means the second leg should be an exciting match to watch. The winner of leg two will face either Portland Timbers or Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final. If Sporting KC advances to the final, the championship match would be played at Sporting Park.