Nov 9, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
- Blame Major League Soccer’s playoff schedule for this dead fish of a match
This is what MLS gets for its ill-considered playoff scheduling, for stacking the matches in such a hurry – a humdrum stalemate, a contest with very little happening on either side.
Dulled further by referee Kevin Stott’s choice to be lenient with the whistle (that went both ways), it was hardly a hardy advertisement for the league. Too bad, too, as this one was on NBC rather than NBCSN.
But, we’ve covered this ground before at ProSoccerTalk. So we’ll just move on.
- Long throw-ins as real weapons
So much of Saturday’s opportunity factor, what there was, came from long throw-ins. Matt Besler’s tosses from the touchlines are always liable to create some danger for his Sporting Kansas City. But when those zippy deliveries happen inside the league’s most narrow field, they become greater weapons, still. In fact, they are ballistic objects, screaming into the opposition six with a vengeance.
Houston created some danger, too, from those same touchlines. Mike Chabala came in for the suspended Corey Ashe at left back. And while the Dynamo probably lost some push up that side, Chabala provided a bonus: he can throw balls into the six, too.
Chabala’s throws arrived on something of a less lethal trajectory than Besler’s, but did produce some limited bother, at least.
- Clark’s injury forces Dynamo formation, personnel shuffle
How much of a compliment is this? When Houston’s Ricardo Clark left after 25 minutes (due to a knee injury), Houston manager Dominic Kinnear had to reconfigure his entire personnel and formation arrangement.
Reason: Clark covers so much ground. So Houston’s 4-4-2 wasn’t being overly bothered by the visitors’ man advantage in the middle. Clark and Warren Creavalle were keeping pace in the center with SKC’s 4-2-3-1, with Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell in defensive support behind playmaker Benny Feilhaber. (Feilhaber had limited influence on the game, as his quest to regain greater relevancy continues to stall.)
Kinnear responded by shifting into a 4-3-3. Andrew Driver came in for Clark, stationed on the left wing. Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia, previously on the Dynamo wings, came inside to play at the top of the midfield “V” ahead of Creavalle. Omar Cummings moved out to the right, with Will Bruin playing as the lone striker.
- Aurelien Collin’s lucky day
Sporting Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin, so talented and so tough to beat, but always the antagonist and instigator, had himself a pretty lucky day all things considered. The Frenchman was quite good in dealing with Houston’s physical Will Bruin. (And in the second half with Bruin’s replacement, the equally physical Cam Weaver.) But Collin also sidestepped some real danger as Stott went easy on the whistle (for both sides, but especially as it concerned Collin.)
Collin was sitting on a yellow card and would have missed the return leg with a booking Saturday. So he was fortunate that Stott did see him barge into Houston center back Bobby Boswell off the ball in the first half. Another referee might have cautioned both players for the naughty little burst of nonsense.
Later, Collin was called for a foul but evaded the potential second-half booking when he tripped Cummings as the speedy Houston man moved around him dangerously just outside the penalty area.
Later still, Collin stepped on Weaver’s foot at the edge of the penalty area. And before it was over, Collin wrapped his leg around Brad Davis from behind, getting some of the ball but still tackling from a poor position, never prudent while toting a playoff yellow card. (And it wasn’t in an area of the field where Collin needed to knife in so brazenly.)
- Tally Hall still not at his best
Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall has certainly had his moments of good and bad through four playoff contests so far.
Saturday, he had a couple more wobbles, although Sporting KC could not punish him for one booboo in positioning and one poor moment of ball handling. Both nervous instances came off one of those Besler throw-ins.
In the first half, Hall stepped out quickly but then got caught in traffic. So he was well out of position when Graham Zusi’s header dropped in behind him, although high of the target.
In the second half, Hall did reach one of Besler’s bullet throw-ins … but then dropped it, even though he wasn’t challenged with any force by a Sporting KC man. That was in the 83rd minute, and conceding a goal there would surely have been a soul crusher for the Dynamo.
- Mike Chabala passed the test
A real worry for Houston on Saturday was how to replace steady left back Corey Ashe, who was suspended for the series opener for collecting a second post-season yellow card in Wednesday’s win over New York. Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear said he changed his mind several times before settling on reserve defender Mike Chabala.
It looked like a tough matchup, a man who had played in just one MLS match this year (Chabala) against a U.S. international and MLS All-Star (Graham Zusi). But Chabala held up well, rarely allowing Zusi to find his way into the game from his advanced right-sided spot in SKC’s 4-3-3.
As Chabala was getting significant help from Brad Davis (and then Andrew Driver after the Clark-related reshuffle), Zusi began drifting inside to locate space. SKC right back Chance Myers never added much pressure on Chabala’s side; in a tight match featuring two tired teams, none of the four outside backs made significant attacking contributions to this one.
Highlights, from NBC:
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- USA drop five places in latest FIFA world rankings; England on the up 1
- Despite their struggles, Liverpool’s season intact as spirit shines through 4
- Champions League roundup: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid through, tense elsewhere 3