After three regular-season meetings with Houston, Sporting Kansas City knew what to expect from the Dynamo in the Eastern Conference semifinals: a slowed-down, physical style designed to limit chances at goal and generate counterattacks
That didn't make it any easier to stop the Dynamo from executing their game plan in Houston's 2-0 win on Sunday in the opening leg of the two-match semi. Sporting struggled to put together a buildup through the early going – and their opponents had everything to do with that, manager Peter Vermes said.
“I thought they did a very good job in the first half, every time we won the ball, of just basically getting numbers around us, and either they won the ball or they fouled us,” Vermes said in the postgame news conference. “They broke the rhythm of the game quickly, and that way they always got 11 players behind the ball, slowed the game down for them every time we won it.”
Houston's 4-4-2 setup against Sporting's 4-3-3 would seem to give the Dynamo a numerical advantage for winning balls in the middle third, but Vermes said that wasn't the issue.
“They didn't really have four. They had the two guys wide that just pinched in a little bit,” he said. “It was more – if you look at the number of fouls in the middle of the field, when you look at where they took place, it was every time we won the ball. Even when our central defenders had the ball and were looking to play out, there was a foul from behind. That broke our rhythm, and that's why we couldn't play. At some point, the referee's got to step in and change that by giving a card, doing something.”
Vermes took pains, however, not to characterize Houston's play as dirty or overly physical.
“It's tactical play,” he said. “Every time you get the ball, I can either win from you or I get just enough on you that you can't play the next ball forward. The referee has to make the call, but that lets them get behind the ball. It happens all over the world, and it's usually a tactical way to play. They did a great job of it.”
Referee Edvin Jurisevic did hand out two cautions to Dynamo players during the match, but neither were for fouls in the midfield.
“It's something that we'll have to be aware of,” Vermes said, “and hopefully we'll deal with it better the next game and hopefully the refereeing crew will as well.”