The Dynamo faced a familiar foe -- Sporting Kansas City -- in their first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night. The sold-out crowd on hand at BBVA Compass Stadium got to witness a rousing 0-0 draw.
Not that the match was devoid of intrigue. The tough, physical battle that mirrored the type of football the Texans play left both teams battered and bruised.
Here are five things we learned from the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Final.
5. What could have been
When the two teams met last year in the playoffs -- first leg also at BBVA -- the Dynamo opened up the score with an early blast from Adam Moffat in the 18th minute. The early score forced SKC to open up and look for the equalizer.
On Saturday the Dynamo thought they once again took an early lead. In the 17th minute, SKC again had difficulty clearing a dangerous ball outside their penalty area. Kofi Sarkodie was able to slip behind the defense -- who played the offside trap -- received the ball and shot into goal. The outside referee immediately raised his flag for the offside as the play developed, so SKC's defense and goalkeeper didn't play the ball. However, replays around BBVA showed the offside call was very questionable.
When asked about the play after the game, Sarkodie spoke like a true forward: "When I made the run, I didn't think it was off." And neither did the 22,107 people at BBVA.
4. Boniek's team
For the past few years, the Dynamo have been Brad Davis's team; the offense seemingly flowed through his left foot.
During this three-week span, it appears that there might be a shift toward Boniek Garcia taking over things. Little by little, Davis is conceding corner kick opportunities to Garcia, and the Honduran international has taken the past two penalty kicks for the Dynamo. In the 29th minute on Saturday, Garcia, not Davis, shot a free kick that had a nice bend to it. Had it not been for an amazing Jimmy Nielsen save, the Dynamo would have been up 1-0 at that point. 3. Without Rico
— Jeff Strong (@DynamoCooligan) November 10, 2013
Since his return from Germany last year, Ricardo Clark has had an immeasurable role in the midfield, breaking up plays in front of the defense and contributing to the attack.
In the 26th minute, Clark was subbed out with what the club officially ruled as a "left leg injury." What happened next was tactical magic by the hands of Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. He brought in Andrew Driver, and switched the formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3. Although the changes didn't amount to goals, it did show who SKC struggled to defend the new look.
It's not clear if Clark will be fit for the second leg; the only good news is that he'll have two weeks to test his leg.
For some unfathomable reason, the schedule makers-to-be at MLS headquarters in New York penciled in the first four games in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in quick succession. Aside from the Dynamo's CONCACAF Champions League loss to Árabe Unido, they played in the regular season finale at DC United, their Knockout Round win against the Montreal Impact and their home-and-away series with the Red Bulls. Counting Saturday's match, that's six games in 17 days.
"Six games in less than three weeks is something incredible," Kinnear said. "We knew it was going to come down to the second game in Kansas City anyway because of how close and competitive these teams are, but these guys deserve a break. Not only physically but mentally as well, to get away and kind of recharge the batteries."
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1. Second Leg and the USMNT
The reason the second leg is scheduled for November 23 is FIFA. The world governing body has set aside November 15-19 as official international match days. The U.S. Men's National Team, for example, will play at Scotland on November 15 and at Austria on November 19. Therefore, MLS had to work its way around that scheduling snafu.
It is possible that U.S. head coach Jürgen Klinsmann calls in Davis, or even SKC players Graham Zusi or Matt Besler, cutting their two-week vacation short.
One person who won't have the luxury of two weeks off is Garcia, who's the main bill in the friendly between Honduras and Ecuador on November 19 -- at BBVA.