Rather than playing out the string in anticipation of the US Open Cup Final the Chicago Fire are actually in the middle of a legitimate race for an MLS playoff spot. Something that seemed completely out of the realm of possibility just weeks ago is within reach on the strength of five wins in the last six matches.
After a 3-0 win in Utah on Wednesday night, another victory on short rest in Texas won't be easy. Houston has been strong at home going 9-3-3 on the season. The Dynamo also need maximum points from this match in order to stay in the playoff race. Although they currently sit in second place in the East they have two difficult matches remaining after this one, at Portland and against the Galaxy. All other playoff contenders have games in hand on the Dynamo.
Houston has been stronger with Geoff Cameron resuming a spot in central defense next to Bobby Boswell. Dominic Kinnear moved Cameron to an attacking midfield spot last season and seems to have come to terms with the fact that his best position is on the back line. Corey Ashe and Andre Hainault are the outside backs.
Adam Moffat and Luiz Camargo where the starters in central midfield in Houston's first road victory of the season last weekend at Dallas and will likely start again today. Danny Cruz and MVP candidate Brad Davis are the right and left side midfielders. Davis, who continues to be one the best players in MLS year after year is tied for the league lead in assists with 14.
Houston has added forward Carlos Costly since the Fire's last encounter with them, a 1-1 draw at Toyota Park back on April 23. The Honduran has yet to score in MLS and Calen Carr has worked his way into the starting line-up for the last two matches. I'm expecting Carr and Brian Ching up top.
Frank Klopas has some decisions to make with the US Open Cup Final on the horizon. Does he rest the majority of the starters in order to have them ready for Tuesday? My guess is we'll see some changes but most of the regulars will be in there.
Sean Johnson in goal with Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, and Gonzalo Segares could make sense if Klopas decides to give Gibbs a break before Tuesday.
After Marco Pappa's best game in a Fire uniform on Wednesday night he's got to be back in the first eleven in this one. Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, and Baggio Husidic or Corben Bone could fill out the middle if Klopas decides to give Pardo a breather. It's a tough call and a difficult one to predict. Much of his decisions will probably be based on how players were able to bounce back in training over the last two days. There's no need to risk aggravating Sebastian Grazzini's hamstring injury in this game unless he is fully 100% fit.
It seems Dominic Oduro will be set to go but Diego Chaves could spell Patrick Nyarko to start this one. Nyarko is an important part of the offense but he does take a beating and Chaves is a quality man to have on the bench.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL reconstruction); DF Steven Kinney (lower abdominal strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sebastian Grazzini (R hamstring tightness)
HOUSTON DYNAMO -- DOUBTFUL: FW Cam Weaver (R hip strain)
I'm expecting Houston to try come out with a physical approach in this one and the Fire have to be prepared for an early surge. Both teams need this one.
Fire 1 Dynamo 1
The Rest of the League
New York 2 Toronto 2 - This game is in Toronto and TFC has been better of late. It will be interesting to see how the Marquez saga unfolds after being suspended by the team last weekend.
Seattle 2 New England 1 - Revs may get AJ Soares back but Seattle still has a chance to catch LA for the Supporter's Shield. Will Sigi Schmid rest his starters ahead of the USOC Final?
FC Dallas 1 Colorado 1 - Neither side is playing particularly well at this point.
Los Angeles 1 Real Salt Lake 0 - With the hopes of catching the Galaxy out the window will RSL relax or will Kries crack the whip even harder?
Sporting 1 San Jose 1 - Kansas City could be on their way to winning the East with a victory here.
DC 0 Columbus 1 - If DeRosario's injury is bad enough to keep him out of this game this will be a struggle. It may not be pretty either way.
Portland 0 Vancouver 1 - Timbers are bad on the road and this features another stadium opening.
Chivas USA 1 Philadelphia 0 - The Goats are at home and Philly while Philly travels cross country after a Thursday night match.