1. A tale of two keepers.
Much of the buildup to the game focused on SKC starting keeper Tim Melia, sidelined by a hamstring injury suffered several weeks ago against Minnesota United and ruled out of the Knockout Round game by head coach Peter Vermes on Wednesday.
Backup Andrew Dykstra got the start and had relatively little to do, but counterpart Tyler Deric -- a Homegrown player who didn’t get much credit for Houston’s dramatic turnaround -- rescued the Dynamo on the few occasions his teammates needed him.
A sprawling save on Gerso Fernandes late in the first half snuffed one of SKC’s best chances at a crucial point in the match
In its first playoff appearance since being eliminated by Sporting KC during its run to the 2013 MLS Cup title, the Dynamo got clutch performances from several players like Deric, who were retained when Wilmer Cabrera took over as head coach.
Deric’s defenders came through as well with Adolfo Machado drafted as a right back when veteran A.J. DeLaGarza was diagnosed with a ruptured ACL. Sequences such as the bang-bang scramble during which point-blank shots by Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi were blocked prevented SKC from seizing control of the match.
2. Sanchez and Elis burn the entire SKC backline.
A badly rutted, bumpy field impaired Houston’s desire to attack at speed, which Cabrera has occasionally supplemented this year with ex-Rapid Sanchez. Signed as a free agent in January, he started just three of 21 appearances during the regular season and came on as a sub near the end of regulation time to supply just what the Dynamo needed to breach the league’s stingiest back line.
Sanchez skipped by left back Jimmy Medranda to the byline and slid the ball past centerback Matt Besler as defensive mid Ilie Sanchez failed to intervene. Besler’s partner, Ike Opara, lunged to intercept but slipped and came up short as Elis trapped the ball. Right back Graham Zusi, mindful that another Dynamo player was parked in the goalmouth, hesitated just long enough for Elis to take a second touch and then drill a low shot Dykstra had no chance to stop.
A few minutes later, Sanchez blew a clean chance to ice the game when sent in alone on Dykstra, and in stoppage time the keeper smothered his penalty kick. But in a game that needed a moment of magic to break open a turgid deadlock, Sanchez provided it.
3. Is it time to Sporting KC to rebuild?
Since winning that MLS Cup title in 2013, SKC has been knocked out four straight seasons in the first playoff round. It has a long list of veterans 30 or older -- Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza, Zusi, Feilhaber -- and well before this game speculation increased about a major makeover occurring in the offseason. But none of them are way past 30 so it’s not a case of extreme age.
A few young players made significant contributions -- Daniel Salloi (21), Diego Rubio (24), Latif Blessing (20), Medranda (23) -- but they were also inconsistent, as usually is the case, and so Vermes and his staff have tough decisions in the offseason regarding how to get out of the Knockout Round rut. The foreign additions -- Gerso, Illie, Cristian Lobato -- did not turn out to be dramatic upgrades.
Oct. 26 in Houston
Houston 1 Sporting KC 0.
HOU: Alberth Elis (Vicente Sanchez) 94.
Houston – Deric; Machado, Senderos, Leonardo (Anibaba, 41), Beasley, Clark (Sanchez, 87), Elis, Alex (Alexander, 91), Cabezas, Martinez, Torres (Quioto, 79).
Sporting KC – Dykstra; Medranda, Opara, Besler, Zusi, Ilie, Espinoza (Abdul-Salaam, 114), Feilhaber (Oliviera, 101), Blessing (Lobato, 100), Rubio, Gerso (Salloi, 51).