Preview: Houston Dynamo VS. Sporting KC 6/23
While the rest of the world is focused in on the World Cup and who’ll win this year, the MLS season chugs along for the Houston Dynamo. Coming off a narrow 1-0 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup, the Dynamo are heading to Kansas City to play Sporting KC for the first time this season on Saturday. While Houston isn’t expected to walk away from the match with a win against the league-leading SKC, this will be a really interesting match for Houston in a couple of ways.
Both teams have significant winning streaks coming into play on Saturday, with Sporting KC on a six-game winning streak and Houston on an eight-game winning streak. With that winning streak, Houston is up in the middle of the pack of the Western Conference. Making this doubly impressive is that this winning streak has come while the Dynamo run the smallest budget in the league. This frugal success is sustained by low-budget, high-performance players like Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis.
There are even reasons to believe that the Dynamo may be primed for an uptick in performance, without any player additions or extra money being spent. While no math formula is ever perfect at taking out all of the statistical noise, one of my favorite soccer statistics is xGoals. The basic idea here is to calculate the likelihood of each shot at the goal going in, with closer and better-positioned shots being rated higher (a deeper explanation).
According to the xGA (Expected Goals Allowed), the Dynamo defense has been about three goals better than their record shows, which is cause for optimism since that’s easily Houston’s weaker side of the ball. In fact, the xGoals table at ASA (American Soccer Analysis) has the Dynamo sitting directly above Sporting KC when it comes to the underlying statistics. None of that necessarily means that Houston is destined to win the next match with SKC, and it’s hard to argue that the real results on the field are less relevant than underlying statistics. But it certainly does mean that Houston could definitely start playing better without “getting better”. And if you take those underlying stats with the four wins and four draws that the Dynamo has gotten over their last eight games against SKC, this looks like a winning situation for Houston. There is one issue with counting on a win from the Dynamo here and it’s a pretty huge problem: their absolutely abysmal road record. Going back to the start of the 2017 season, Houston has only won two games total on the road while SKC has been really strong at home this season.
All that said, the difference maker to watch in this match has to be Manotas. He’s projected to be the lone striker and is coming off a really quality showing against Minnesota FC where he scored the only goal of the match. Manotas and the Dynamo offense are definitely going to be working hard to put up shots against Sporting KC’s defense. The rub here is that SKC’s defense in home games is even better, with half of their home games being clean sheets. Overall, despite some statistics going in Houston’s favor, I’d expect Sporting KC to win. SKC is just too strong defensively at home and Houston is too weak on the road. But when SKC comes back around to Houston in a month, Oh man I am certain that we have got their number.