USOC: Clash of Rivals
Houston Dynamo FC welcome SKC to Shell Energy Stadium for the first time this season. This will be a battle of the bench as both teams are looking ahead for Saturday's all important regular season matches. Ben Olsen has confirmed that we will likely see a heavily rotated squad.
This game comes with a bit of history, with Sporting Kansas City having the glory of knocking Houston out of the USOC the year prior. Although, the rivalry between the two sides span far back, and there always seems to be a bit of an edge when these teams meet.
It is not secret that Sporting Kansas City have started the season in humiliating fashion, only just winning their first game of the season last week against Seattle Sounders. Despite this result, Peter Vermes' side sits firmly in last place. What a fall from grace it has been. Once upon a time, SKC were a fierce team that were annual contenders, but now they have shifted to a side that have most teams relieved to see on the schedule. Vermes receiving a long term contract extension at the beginning of preseason leads me to believe they will ride or die with him at the helm.
However, Houston must take this game seriously if they are to win. SKC are a tricky side and if Vermes is good at one thing, it is team spirit. SKC are on a football high currently, after going into Seattle and taking 3 points. That is not easy task, so perhaps Vermes has his side trending upwards. Here is the XI I expect will start tonight, at 7:30 CT vs SKC.
To learn a little more about SKC and how the fans feel in general, I was able to catch up with fellow "MLS Now" correspondent, Travis Mitchell. I asked a series of questions to better understand what the Dynamo can expect tonight.
Q: "With the recent win away against Seattle, how confident are the fans in Peter Vermes and the team as a whole?" A: "Most fans aren't very confident. It felt good to beat Seattle, but from what I see fans want more. Peter Vermes is obviously a club legend and is still around because of an earned long leash. However, a lot of decisions he made have looked really bad this year. At our worst we look old, slow and impotent. Vermes has a long history of signing promising young players and then never playing them or giving them a real shot because of veterans in front of them. That doesn't work when the veterans are Shelton, Espinoza and until recently, Sweat. That said, we finally had 3 dps on the field for the first time in years. Some of the rust is coming off and Sunday is something to build from." My input: No doubt that injuries have been a huge part of SKC's downfall, but seeing as they have all 3 dps healthy is a sign of better things to come. Espinoza is always a dangerous player, but I have never understood SKC's infatuation with Shelton. He was never a great player, yet he gets consistent minutes.
Q: "Who has been the best player and the worst player on the team thus far?"
A: "Best player has been Remi Walter. No one's been great, but Remi always comes to play. He's not a big goal threat, but he finds ways to contribute every game. Worst could be anyone else that's been getting significant minutes. Before he left, you could say Ben Sweat is directly responsible for like half the goals against us, and I guess Fontas is responsible for the second most." My input: My memory of Fontas is always that he is a good defender, so I am surprised to see him as the worst player for you guys. Remi Walter is dangerous, and he scored the game winner at home for SKC against the Dynamo last season.
Q: "What is your predicted lineup vs Houston?" A: "I think we'll be heavily rotated. We're too old and injury prone to play our starters too many minutes.. Up front will be something like Shelton, Arfifa (new draft signee), Tzionis Midfield will be something like Hernandez, SKCII call up Ethan Bryant and then maybe Radoja for some recovery minutes if he's available. Back line I'm thinking Davis, Rosero, Castellanos and Ndenbe. Goalkeeper will be Pulskamp." My input: The fact I am not too familiar with most of these players is a real sign of how rotated SKC will be. Pulskamp is a good goalkeeper that I am usually impressed with.
Q: "Based on what you know of the Dynamo, what do you think will be the toughest obstacle for SKC to overcome to get the win?" A: "What I know about the Dynamo is that you're much improved this year. I thought it was cool when you got Hector Herrera, but thought it might be wasted with how bad y'all have been hahaha. MLS teams are only so deep and I really have no expectations if we're rotated as much as I think we'll be. We need our attacking players to step up and be creative, Tzionis has the talent to make it happen but hasn't shown it at the MLS level. Our defense will have to find a way to play together despite being rotated. A few goals have come against SKC when Danny Rosero gets frustrated with how impotent the offense is, he pushes forward too far and then the opposing team counters. In general if we play the youth, I'll be excited to see them step up and make a case for first team minutes." My input: Hector Herrera has rejuvenated our team this season, making us look competent. He won't make a cameo tonight, so we will have to rely on the depth to carry us to the finish line.
Q: "What does Houston need to do in order to beat SKC?" A: "If you take away our confidence early, we've shown that we don't recover well. Wait for us to make a blunder and make us pay. So far when that has happened this year, the team falls apart." My input: It sounds like the way to get the best of SKC is to go up early. Seeing as the Dynamo are a second half team under Ben Olsen, I fully expect the game to be 0-0 at half.
Q: "Score prediction?" A: "I'm a homer, I believe that SKC's youth show up and pull out an entertaining 3-2 win." My input: Had the Dynamo played tonight's USOC match at Children's Mercy Park, I would predict an SKC win, despite their rough start to the season. However, Houston have been phenomenal at home, and have yet to even concede a goal. For that reason, I will give the Dynamo a 1-0 win.
As always, this has been Colin with Keeping Tabs, reminding YOU to keep your tabs. Thanks guys. #HoldItDown.