Set pieces key in Sporting clash with Houston

Sporting Kansas City is set to host the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday with both teams hitting stride at just the right time.

Including its final regular season matches, Houston is riding an eight-game unbeaten streak into Sunday's clash.

The Dynamo picked up two postseason wins against the Philadelphia Union, earning a 2-1 win at PPL Park in the opening leg before Brian Ching provided the lone goal in the return match on Thursday to see Houston through with a 3-1 aggregate score.

Sporting, meanwhile, has a seven-match unbeaten streak in tact spanning regular season and postseason play. Kansas City edged the Colorado Rapids in the Conference Semis with a 2-0 win both home and away.

The winner of Sunday's contest could come down to which side is able to take advantage of its set pieces with both teams proving to be quite dangerous from dead-ball situations.

Houston notched two of its three postseason goals from set pieces, both of which were delivered into the box by the MLS regular season assist leader Brad Davis.

Sporting has found success in similar fashion during the playoffs, as three of its four goals against Colorado were scored directly from a restart.

Teal Bunbury converted a penalty kick in the first leg, while Graham Zusi sent two brilliant free kicks into the box as Aurelien Collin and C.J. Sapong met the deliveries to tally Sporting's second-leg goals.

"To be good on set pieces, you have to have someone that can deliver a ball consistently well," Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said. "[Zusi] has been doing that for probably the last two thirds of the season here. He has really stepped it up."

Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear echoed that analysis, highlighting the tremendous service Davis provided for Ching's 1-0 win over the Union on Thursday.

"It all comes down to delivery," Kinnear told "If you don't have a guy who can deliver the ball, you'll get nowhere. The delivery from Brad was excellent, and Brian got a good run into the box, and there were other times where we looked pretty dangerous too."

In two matches against Sporting this season, Houston only managed one goal, which came from a set piece in a 1-1 draw on at Robertson Stadium on July 16.

With tall players like Bobby Boswell (6-2), Geoff Cameron (6-3), and Andre Hainault (6-0), Houston is certainly aiming to make the most of its set pieces.

"I think we've been successful all year on them, and in the past we've been the same way," said Boswell, who has scored four of his five goals off set pieces this year. "It's our bread and butter. It's hard to mark everyone. It's been working for us. Why change it if it���s working?"

Sporting's form at home this season could also help turn the result in Kansas City's favor.

After opening its season with a ten-game road spell that yielded only one win, Sporting's turnaround coincided with the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park in June. The venue has been a fortress, as Kansas City has posted a 9-2-6 record at the new soccer specific stadium en route to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

"The ownership group has presented to the fans that this is their home and they can come view a game here in this environment," Vermes said.

"[The fans] have been the 12th man of this team all season long and that is one of the reasons we are sitting here today and we have a chance at the Eastern Conference championship. I am just glad that we have been able to reciprocate by making sure the championship is here."