Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Sporting Kansas City's attack has proven to be just fine without Designated Player Omar Bravo, and the club may have to maintain its level of play without him for Sunday's MLS Eastern Conference final against the Houston Dynamo.
Bravo has a groin strain that has prevented him from playing this postseason, and Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said that his status for Sunday's match is still very much in question.
"He's at a little bit of the same place that he's been over the last week," Vermes said. "He can do certain things well with no pain, but there's a few other things he has pain. He trained today at 70-to-80 percent. Hopefully tomorrow we'll see that his reaction from training is good, and then we'll see."
Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong have more than made up for Bravo's absence and figure to be called upon again as the Mexican striker works his way back to full fitness.
Here are a few more notes from SKC and Houston ahead of Sunday's final:
FINAL CCL BERTH ON THE LINE
The winner of Sunday's match not only gets a chance to play for MLS Cup, but it will also secure the league's final allotted place in the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League (although Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal can still qualify via the 2012 Canadian championship).
Los Angeles is already in after capturing the Supporters' Shield, and Seattle is entered into the tournament after capturing the U.S. Open Cup title.
Real Salt Lake would get in by winning the Western Conference crown, but it doesn't even have to. If the Galaxy wins the Western Conference final it will double up on automatic qualifiers, leaving a spot for RSL, which had the best MLS record of teams that have yet to qualify through either winning the Supporters' Shield, Open Cup or potentially winning its conference title or MLS Cup.
As a result, either Houston or SKC will grab the league's final place in the tournament as one of two combatants in the MLS Cup final.
HOUSTON CURES ROAD WOES
For the Dynamo, winning on the road was an impossible feat this season until a late September match at FC Dallas. Ever since then, Houston's been right at home away from Robertson Stadium.
The club's 1-0 victory over Dallas on Sept. 24 was the Dynamo's first road win of the season after posting an 0-6-9 road mark in their first 15 road contests.
"The game in Dallas gave us a tremendous amount of confidence," Houston coach Dom Kinnear said. "The mood in the locker room was excellent."
Houston followed that up with a crucial win at Portland that solidified its place in the playoffs and then a conference semifinal road triumph at Philadelphia. If the club is to reach the MLS Cup final for the third time in six years, it will need to work its new-found road magic yet again at Livestrong Sporting Park, where Sporting Kansas City went 9-2-6 during the regular season.
"This will probably be the hardest road game we've faced all year," Kinnear said. "The confidence of the team shows that the guys are ready."
CAMERON AT CB SOLIDIFIES HOUSTON DEFENSE
The Dynamo's back line has emerged as a true strength of the club, and while a number of factors — the play of goalkeeper Tally Hall, the emergence of Adam Moffat as a protective shield to name a couple — are responsible for that, the most crucial element has been Geoff Cameron's permanent shift to centerback.
Cameron's attacking qualities make it difficult to limit him to a defensive role, but with Moffat and Luiz Camargo forming an effective tandem in central midfield, it provided Kinnear with the flexibility to shift Cameron alongside Bobby Boswell in central defense, while Andre Hainault moved over to right back.
"With (Cameron) moving back to central defense, it helped solidify them defensively," Vermes said. "They found a group of guys that mix very well with the system that they play."
The Dynamo conceded just one goal to the Union in their playoff series and have yielded just three goals in their last six games dating back to the turning-point road win at Dallas.
"Geoff, as we've all seen, is a phenomenal player," Hall said. "To have him in the back line brings a level of athleticism that only he can bring. At the same time, he's smart with the ball, and he's skillful with distributing. It's a great place for him."