Beyond The Box Score: Parity reigns in Sporting's rivalry with Houston

In a league full of compelling rivalries that span from coast to coast, the wars waged between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo may not be top of mind among national pundits and MLS followers.

Anyone well familiar with the series over the last decade, however, would be quick to label it one of the more hotly contested fixtures in MLS.

Perhaps no factor has fueled Sporting’s rivalry with Houston more than frequency. Saturday marked the 31st time the clubs have met since 2011, with 20 regular season contests to go with six playoff battles and five Open Cup matches.

And as it turns out, Saturday’s delicately poised 1-1 draw at BBVA Compass Stadium marked the continuation of unmistakable parity between the sides.

Yohan Croizet fired Sporting Kansas City ahead after 63 minutes with a decadent chip over Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis, but the hosts equalized six minutes later through Alberth Elis to ensuring a share of the spoils at hot and humid BBVA Compass Stadium.

Since Sporting and Houston developed their rivalry in 2011—that year they met in the Open Cup and the MLS Cup Playoffs—the teams have scraped to a dead-even 10-10-11 record in all competitions. With 31 head-to-head meetings between them, Sporting and Houston are each other’s most common opponent during that time period.

The table below illustrates the even nature of the matchup, down to goals scored and conceded. Houston has outscored Sporting 38-37 in what has tended to be a lower-scoring series with the occasional goal fest here and there.

SPORTING KC vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO SINCE 2011
(ALL COMPETITIONS)

Competition W L T GF GA
Regular Season 5 5 10 25 24
MLS Cup Playoffs 2 3 1 3 6
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 0 9 8
All competitions 10 10 11 37 38

Make no mistake, Sporting and Houston are accustomed to settling for stalemates, having done so 11 times over the last nine seasons. A rarity nonetheless emerged from Saturday's clash, as it was just the third game between the clubs to produce zero yellow cards or red cards since 2011. Referee Kevin Stott whistled both teams for 13 fouls on Saturday and saw multiple scuffles break out over the course of 90 minutes, but the cards stayed in his pocket.

The two previous games between Sporting and Houston that yielded no bookings were scoreless draws. The first was a regular season match in July 2012, and the second was a cagey affair in the first leg of the 2013 Eastern Conference Championship.

Not for the first time this season, Sporting were short-handed on Saturday against a Houston outfit that boasted a 6-0-2 home record entering the game. But a stout defensive effort propelled the visitors to a well-earned result and postgame praise from Manager Peter Vermes.

"We talked about a specific plan that we wanted to put in, and I thought we executed it better than I expected, to be honest with you," Vermes said. "So many things, with the lack of rest, with the short turnaround in games and all that, for us to be able to come in here and really more than likely deserve the three points, that was big for us. We played very well, so I’m very proud of the guys, from their organization to their execution on what we talked about doing."

Indeed, any of Sporting's back five could be individually lauded for their respective shifts against the Dynamo. Consider the following:

  • Goalkeeper Tim Melia made three saves—including a jaw-dropping stop to deny Romell Quioto in the 53rd minute—and distributed accurately from his goalmouth with 31 successful passes, his most in an away game this season..
  • Center back Botond Barath had a game-high eight clearances, more than any other MLS player in Saturday's slate of nine games.
  • Center back Graham Smith completed 43 of 47 passes and won four duels before exiting near the hour mark.
  • Right back Nico Hasler had three clearances, two interceptions, completed 24 of 27 passes and limited Quioto to a single shot on target.
  • Left back Seth Sinovic, arguably the man of the match, completed 52 of 55 passes and won eight of 12 duels, most of which against one of the league's most dangerous wingers in Alberth Elis.

That's not to mention the gritty contributions of Croizet and Ilie Sanchez, who combined for Sporting's goal, as well as Felipe Gutierrez, who had game-highs in duels won (10) and tackles won (five).

"I thought we were organized and I thought we defended well," Sinovic said postgame. "I think we’d like to come away with three points, but they had some chances, we had some chances; that’s just kind of how the ball rolls sometimes. If nothing else, it was a great effort and a good solid performance."

Saturday marked the first of five consecutive road games in June for Sporting, who will next travel to face Toronto FC on Friday at BMO Field. The contest will kick off at 6 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.

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