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Saturday, November 5, 2011
Eastern supremacy: Houston or Sporting?

By Scott French

A few hours before the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake kick off at Home Depot Center, the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City battle for the Eastern Conference title and the other berth in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup in Carson.


You've got questions? We've got answers.

Who are these guys? How did they get here?

Eastern regular-season champ Sporting (15-9-12 including playoffs) won just one of its first 10 games, all on the road, while waiting for the final touches on its glorious new stadium. Since then, the ex-Wizards have been lights-out, going 14-3-9 behind a vibrant attack featuring Mexican star Omar Bravo, South Bay product Kei Kamara and breakout star Graham  Zusi. They've won four in a row, with two 2-0 decisions over Colorado in the first round of the playoffs, and are unbeaten in their last seven.

Houston (14-9-13), which won MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007 -- the first two seasons after relocating from San Jose -- battled injuries most of the year, then got hot as it got healthy. With MLS assist leader (and MVP hopeful) Brad Davis creating from the left and Geoff Cameron bolstering a solid defense, the Dynamo are 6-0-1 in their last seven games, a run that led to the No. 2 seed in the East.

What's going to decide this one?

How well Houston handles Sporting's blistering speed and league's-best athleticism will be telling. K.C. attacks in waves, making good use of the flanks to get the ball up top to rising star Teal Bunbury and Rookie of the Year slam-dunk C.J. Sapong, who have ample pace. Cameron and Bobby Boswell are a solid central tandem in the back for the Dynamo, which has in Davis and veteran striker Brian Ching potential difference-makers.
Who is the key player?

Davis. If he's sharp and Houston can win some set pieces around the Sporting box, the Dynamo will be very dangerous.

Who would the Galaxy rather play?

Both would give L.A. (or Real Salt Lake, for that matter) a real battle, but Sporting has the look of destiny to them -- and its pace and athleticism are something else. As good as is Houston, that matchup is more favorable for the Galaxy.

THE GAME

At Livestrong Sporting Park (Kansas City, Kan.), 2:30 p.m. PT
TV:
Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes
Radio: None
Referee: Mark Geiger

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic; Davy Arnaud, Roger Espinoza; Graham Zusi; Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, Omar Bravo.

Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe; Danny Cruz, Adam Moffat, Luiz Camargo, Brad Davis; Calen Carr, Brian Ching.