Needless to say, winning home matches against Eastern Conference competition vying for one of five playoff spots is imperative. Especially against short handed Eastern Conference teams missing three of their four starting midfielders over the first three matches of the season. Simply put the Fire need all three points in this one.
Despite the losses in midfield the Dynamo are always well coached and difficult to play against. Dominic Kinnear's defense is anchored in goal by Tally Hall, who has recorded two clean sheets this season against Chivas USA and San Jose. The back line is solid and will pose a problem for Fire attackers with Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell in the middle. Andre Hainault and Corey Ashe complete one of the better defensive units in the league. Kinnear has pushed Ashe into midfield in the past when the club has been shorthanded and that could be the case again in this match. Jermaine Taylor is an option at left back and/or left midfield depending on where Ashe is assigned.
The Dyanmo attack however centers around the ability of left midfielder Brad Davis to create chances out of nowhere. Without Davis, Houston should have trouble maintaining possession and creating chances from set pieces where he truly excels. Even without their top playmaker Kinnear won't be devoid of options. Luiz Camargo, who played a big role in the club's playoff push last season in an attacking spot will likely see his first extended time of the season after recovering from an offseason injury. Regular starters Adam Moffat and Colin Clarke are both unavailable due to suspension so Nathan Sturgis should get the nod in the holding role with Je-Vaughn Watson (the only returning starter from the first three matches of the season), Camargo, and either Taylor or Ashe on the left side attempting to replace Davis to complete the midfield line up.
Brian Ching and Will Bruin are the forwards but neither one provides much of a different look in terms of pace. Ching is always dangerous in the box but his abilities will be tested without Davis serving balls into space. The Dynamo do have Calen Carr available on the bench when a different look is required later in matches. Carr has played fairly well for Houston since recovering from the concussion issues that kept him out early last season before being dealt away from the Fire in exchange for Dominic Oduro in a trade that has worked well for both sides.
The Fire defense will see some changes this week. Expect Sean Johnson to get his first start of the season in this match despite playing a full 90 in a reserve match in Kansas City on Tuesday. Paolo Tornaghi played very well through the first three games of the season although the second goal in Colorado should have been collected but Frank Klopas seems to want to get Johnson back into an important game sooner rather than later.
Arne Friedrich is set to make his regular season debut in this match in place of the injured Cory Gibbs. Friedrich was initially thought to be paired with Gibbs while Jalil Anibaba moved to the bench but the injury allows Anibaba an opportunity to step up and stake a permanent claim in the first eleven. Dan Gargan has resumed full training after missing the last match due to a toe injury and Gonzalo Segares will man the left side as usual. Gibbs will be missed since he was probably the club's best player in the air on both ends of the field.
Without Gargan in Colorado, Klopas moved Logan Pause to right back and the midfield seemed to lose order, spacing, and concentration in his absence. Rafael Robayo started on the right side in Colorado and both he and Marco Pappa seemed to be lost on the pitch at times. Pappa chipped in with an excellent first half against the Union in the home opener but needs to step his game up to meet his potential in order for the Fire to succeed. With Pappa not playing well, floating into areas crowding spaces rather than creating space and firing long distance prayers the effectiveness of Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini going forward becomes limited.
Opposing defenses have figured out that crowding the midfield and playing the back line deep to prevent Oduro and Patrick Nyarko from getting behind them severely limits the Fire attack. Dominic Kinnear is one of the best coaches in the league and he will certainly employ this tactic as will the rest of the league until the Fire can find a way to generate something offensively without having to resort to balls over the top in search of a streaking Oduro.
With Houston's midfield in flux this may be the time for Grazzini to break through and provide some of the spark that he showed during the Fire's dash to claim a playoff spot last season.
HOUSTON DYNAMO -- OUT: MF Brad Davis (L calf strain); PROBABLE: FW Calen Carr (L knee effusion)
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tibialis tendinitis); DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus tear)
Did I mention that winning at home is a must.......Fire 2 Dynamo 1
Podcast Episode 3
Jeff Krause and I discuss this match with Fire team writer Jeff Crandall in the latest episode of the Fire Confidential Podcast.