Chicago Fire look to keep piling up points and make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race as they travel to Texas to face the Houston Dynamo Saturday night, in what will be a clash of two contrasting clubs.
Reloaded and adrenalized and by their recent acquisitions, the Fire are playing their best soccer of the season and doing it without arguably their best player over the first half of the year, Patrick Nyarko. Freddie Ljungberg should be a force again, after dazzling the home crowd during Wednesday’s2-1 win over New England.
It’s going to be a challenge for Houston to contend with this new attack. With Ljungberg drawing multiple attackers, he’s making those around him better by dishing the ball into open space for his teammates and in response, his teammates have been precise with their passing consistently giving the ball to him in good spots. So pick your poison, give the Swede his own space to create, or swarm him with coverage, and allow game winning goals like we saw Calen Carr score a few nights ago.
Baggio Huisidic is making it a habit to be at the right place at the right time, and has the coolness to deliver. I also expect Marco Pappa to have a bigger impact this match. He was solid against New England, but look for more flash from the Guatemalan against the Dynamo.
On the defensive side Gonzalo Segares really settled things down for Chicago, and Dasan Robinson quietly had one of his best matches this year Wednesday night. Behind them is rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson who will make his second-ever road start for Chicago. I know it’s only been three matches, but I will go ahead and say it: I have never witnessed quicker reflexes from a goalkeeper his size. Wednesday night the UCF product again stopped a blazing drive in Marko Perovic’s first half strike that looked destined for goal, until Johnson’s big paw intervened. That has to be demoralizing to a Houston club that is having trouble scoring.
For the Dynamo, they need a win, and they need it really bad. Coming off a 1-0 defeat to New England last Saturday night, they are rested, but not relaxed. They have not won in MLS since May 22 against lowly DC United. Don’t expect a ton of push forward from Houston as they have registered just two shots on goal, combined in their last two matches.
Corey Ashe and Adrian Serioux are doubtuful for Dominic Kinnear’s bunch and Brian Ching will be a game time decision, but I would expect him to be in the starting XI for Houston -- if they don’t turn things around immediately, their dim playoff hopes will go to dark.
Geoff Cameron is back for Dynamo, and has bad memories of our Men in Red. In the team’s first meeting of 2010 at Toyota Park where the midfielder tore ligaments in his knee and at the time it appeared his season was over. Fortunate for Houston, he has made an early return and will make his second consecutive start Saturday night.
I expect the Fire to have their hands full with the humidity and quick turnaround after Wednesday’s match, but with the new additions, this is exactly what Chicago needs, frequency of matches should help cohesion come quicker. As C.J. Brown reminded me earlier this week, Houston is a 90 minute plus team, a discipline and structured group, so it would be wrong to take them for granted.
Don’t forget, first kick from Houston is at 7:30pm on Comcast Sportsnet. Stop by Lincoln Park’s newest soccer bar and restaurant, The Pitch (2142 N. Clybourn), for the Official Chicago Fire Watch Party.
Hope you enjoy a entertaining match, and 3 points from our Chicago Fire.