Before we get to the match preview, I'd like to invite everyone to join me at FanKave this Friday night for a live chat/Q&A mobile watch party. Just download the app and join the Chicago Fire kave. We'll talk about the match, transfer window, and anything else soccer related.
And now here's Martin Tomszak's look at the Houston Dynamo.
What Are They About? Houston Dynamo
Hot, hot, hot. The Chicago Fire will celebrate their Round of 16 win against Charlotte by having two short days of rest before traveling to Houston on a cool 95 degree 65% humidity Friday night to play the Dynamo. Both teams are struggling in the league and are missing key players. We could see a very feisty match as three points are a must for both sides at this point of the season.
Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-L-W-D-L
Previous League Match: A 2-0 home loss to Texan rivals FC Dallas.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2; Deric; Beasley, Taylor, Horst, Rodriguez; Lovejoy, Garrido, Clark, Lopez; Barnes, Bruin
Strengths: If there ever was such a thing as a working person’s team, the Houston Dynamo would be it. They’re not flashy, they’re not superstars, and their matches aren’t always pretty but you cannot fault the Dynamo on effort. The whole starting eleven gives 110% at all times to the best of their abilities. Let’s take a look at some features of the squad.
Owen Coyle became the latest European manager to try to break the hex of foreign coaches not faring well in MLS when he took over Houston in the offseason. Many people wrote him off before he even had his bags unpacked, and if we were to judge solely based on league standing they might be right. But filling the void that Dom Kinnear left was never going to be easy and Coyle has had just one transfer window and limited cap space to put his own spin on the team. That being said, he is slowly molding the team tactically and has the base for potentially something good.
The Dynamo have long been known as a team that can grind out results, especially under the often termed “boring” and “negative” tactics that Kinnear implemented. Owen Coyle is trying to change that mentality by having Houston play some positive soccer. Houston has lined up in a 4-4-2 for most matches this season. At home the four in the middle tend to line up in an attacking diamond, while in away matches they line up in a more conservative flat four. Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido are the preferred central midfielders, with Garrido playing holding midfield in the diamond or the more withdrawn midfielder in the flat four with Clark serving as the “number ten” in both formations. The two of them are gelling well, being largely responsible for the roughly 340 passes per game average that Houston has compiled over their last five matches. They have shown an apt ability to find the wingers in quick transition or play dangerous through balls up to Giles Barnes and Will Bruin.
Barnes and Bruin have built up their own chemistry up top as the focal points of the attack. Barnes tends to line up slightly underneath Bruin and then uses his speed to make overlapping runs or draw defenders out wide while Bruin serves as a target forward that can also hold up play. When they are on, they are really on. Bruin has scored a team leading seven goals from twelve shots on target, while Barnes is close behind with six goals from fifteen shots on target. Luckily for Chicago, Barnes will be missing the match due to a Jamaica call up for the Gold Cup. Perhaps Owen Coyle will give former Fire player Alex a run out as the overlapping option? That would be an interesting twist to the plot, but no matter who starts for Houston the Fire defense will need to be weary of a fluid front two if they plan on getting their first ever win at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Missing players: Both sides go into this match with depleted squads. Houston sees a number of its players featuring on Gold Cup rosters. As previously mentioned Giles Barnes received a call up from Jamaica with Jermaine Taylor joining him for the Reggae Boyz. Oscar Boniek Garcia will be with Honduras. Brad Davis was initially called up to the U.S. squad but will not go due to injury and will miss Friday’s match anyway. It will be a battle of the “B Teams” as the Fire are struggling in that department as well.
Calendar Congestion: On top of absences, Houston’s midweek Open Cup match didn’t start until 10:20 because of inclement weather and didn’t end till around midnight meaning that when the Dynamo line up on Friday for their fifth match in seventeen days, they will do so with slightly less rest than the Fire. This congestion will continue due to the Dynamo’s qualification for the next round of the open cup, and more importantly for Houston their next five league matches are against conference opposition so this match might be seen as one where even a point would be a good take away before bunkering in for tough times.
Suspension Worries: Frank Yallop may be able to utilize the likes of Kennedy Igboananike and Patrick Nyarko by attacking defenders with pace and frequent cuts. He should implore Harry Shipp to do the same in midfield because Houston goes into the match with Kofie Sarkodie, Garrido, Clark, and Jermaine Taylor all one booking away from missing crucial conference battles. They will be wary of making mistakes before a tough trip to San Jose the following week.
Defensive Woes: The Fire may be able to get some chances even without Accam, Maloney, and Jones. Mike Magee should be able to get into position for looks as Houston has only kept three clean sheets all season and the last one came way back on April 11th against Montreal. None of the back four can be described as “quick” and they have been made to pay for their lack of speed in the last few matches. Taylor found himself flatfooted and misread a cross into the box to tap it into his own net in the last match against Dallas while Fabian Castillo’s quick give and go had the whole back line ball watching before his calm finish for Dallas’ second.
In the match the week before against Portland, several Houston defenders lost their marks on a set piece, and although Maxi Urruti got the final touch it could have been finished by any number of Timbers players. Later in the match David Horst thought he would stop another headed goal by hauling Norberto Paparatto down in the box during a corner which led to a PK that was converted. There will definitely be chances for the Fire in this match even with a depleted squad. It will just be a question of finishing.
Prediction: They will huff and they will puff but the match will end honors even, Chicago 2-2 Houston. The Fire cannot lose a fifth straight match for only the second time in the club’s history, but their Open Cup win momentum will not lead to a victory. Houston will also stop the slide but missing pieces and awful defending will ensure a draw. Goal scorers: Bruin (28), Alex (54), Magee (75) and Johnson (90).