The Fire played their most complete game of the season the last time these two teams met on April 24 at Toyota Park. A 2-0 win along with a thourough performance provided some optimism at the time.
The Fire are once again optimistic but for different reasons. While the result of the initial meeting gave hope that Carlos De Los Cobos' system was starting to gel, this match-up could provide a spring board into a big playoff push. Another three points will put pressure on either New York or Toronto to get in gear quickly. The Red Bulls visit TFC at noon on Saturday, so the Fire will now if they can move up another spot in the standings by kick off time at 7:30.
Houston has been riddled with injuries for the entire season. Couple the off season losses of Stuart Holden and Ricardo along with the Luis Landin DP flop, it's no wonder Dominic Kinnear's side is suffering through it's worst season since moving to Texas.
2009 MLS Best XI defender Geoff Cameron tore knee ligaments in the first meeting in Chicago and returned last week in Houston's 1-0 loss to New England. Kinnear experimented with playing Cameron as a central attacker before the injury, but he has resumed his duties at half back along with Bobby Boswell. Richard Mulrooney, typically a midfielder started last week at right back but the return of Mike Chabala and Ryan Cochrane should push him back into a more familiar role. Andrew Hainault is the left back.
Houston's most dangerous midfield attacker, Brad Davis will not be available due to a quad strain so Kinnear has been forced to juggle his midfield. Dynamo are employing two defensive midfielders centrally in Lovel Palmer and Anthony Obodai. Defender Mike Chabala has been playing at left mid while second year player Danny Cruz manned the opposite side last week. That's not exactly a frightening midfield.
Midfielder Brian Mullan has seen playing time lately as an advanced attacker along with Brian Ching. Ching still has to be respected in the box but he has found scoring difficult due to the lack of service from midfield. Joseph Ngwenya, Dominic Oduro and Cam Weaver are also options up top.
Veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad has missed time due to injury while Tally Hall has filled in for him. Onstad is now available for selection.
The Fire should once again have an advantage in the middle of the pitch if Freddie Ljungberg can continue his stellar performance against a patch work Houston midfield. Patrick Nyarko is listed as questionable so he may not be available again for this game. Nery Castillo was not impressive at left mid against New England so I'm assuming he won't return to the wing, at least until he is fit enough to provide what's needed from that position. Marco Pappa and Calen Carr could well be the outside players if De Los Cobos does not choose Mike Banner for this match. Baggio Husidic and Logan Pause will likely resume their starting roles to complete the midfield in De Los Cobos' 4-2-3-1 formation. Brian McBride will start at forward unless DLC opts for Castillo up top with McBride as a super sub. I think the Fire should continue to try to optimize the Ljungberg/McBride connection. It's only a matter of time before they begin to click for goals.
The back line should be the same unit that got the call against the Revolution on Wednesday night. Conde, Brown, Robinson, and Segares.
Houston is in the midst of a terrible run of form, going winless in their last ten MLS matches. They have also allowed a Western Conference high of 30 goals. Only expansion side Philadelphia and DC United have allowed more. They are 4-3-3 at home with the last victory coming on May 22 against DC.
The Fire are gaining confidence with each passing week as Ljungberg, Castillo, and Segares have provided a jolt on the field and in the locker room. The Fire are a better team with apparent momentum behind them.
Fire 2 Dynamo 1
Kevin Stott - one of the better MLS officials, which admittedly isn't saying much.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: FW Collins John (L hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF John Thorrington (L quad strain); FW Patrick Nyarko (concussion symptoms)
HOUSTON DYNAMO -- OUT: MF Corey Ashe (R hamstring strain); DF Adrian Serioux (hamstring strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Brad Davis (L quad strain)
Wilman Conde is one yellow card away from an automatic suspension.
Collins John is out with a hamstring strain but he did appear on Glenn Davis' radio show this past Tuesday and had this to say about the Fire and Carlos De Los Cobos. "I'm back and I'm fit and I love the team. I'm really loving being in Chicago right now." Regarding his coach, "Carlos is a very disciplined guy. We have to give him credit, he's a big difference (from other MLS coaches). I'm glad he's the coach of the Chicago Fire. Chicago Fire is all about making the playoffs and winning the championship."
Some interesting thoughts from Kyle McCarthy on Nery Castillo.
Homegrown signing Victor Pineda will wear #27. The 17 year old Pineda is the first player to come up directly to the team through the Fire's player development system. He has played for both the Chicago Fire Juniors and the Chicago Fire Academy team. He was also an All American at Plainfield East High School.
The Fire is holding a watch party at The Pitch for this match. Section 8 members will be in attendance with discounted merchandise, club seat ticket raffles, and info on the upcoming road trip to Philadelphia. It is pretty likely that I will also be in the house for this one. Stop by. Say hello. Have a beverage. Watch the game.
Toronto 2 New York 1
San Jose 1 Los Angeles 1
Columbus 1 Colorado 0
Dallas 3 Chivas 1
Kansas City 1 New England 0
Philadelphia 1 DC 0