After picking up their first win of the season last week, the Fire travel to Houston for Sunday’s match (4pm CT on UniMas/La Ley 107.9FM) brimming with confidence. The Dynamo lost again on the road last week against Portland but are returning to BBBV Compass Stadium, a place where they have never lost. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Giles Barnes – excelling in the role of second striker and deceptively good in the air
Giles Barnes has had an excellent start to 2013, playing in an almost free role just behind the target striker. Barnes is dangerous in a number of areas: he can drop deep or wide with the ball, taking on defenders, he can also win flicks on to his strike partner and he has come up with two headed goals already this season.
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Against Portland last week and San Jose the week before, Barnes linked up well with central midfielders Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, taking the ball from them before turning and running at defenders from deep or around the box.
In the air, Barnes won many dangerous flick-ons against San Jose in Houston’s last home match. Barnes’ ability to win balls in the air seemed to baffle San Jose, who were clearly anticipating him to be running onto the flicks by Will Bruin.
In the matches against San Jose and the week before against Vancouver, Barnes chipped in with two headed goals. When teams play Houston, it is easy to get distracted by players such as Brad Davis or Boniek Garcia but Barnes has been their most dangerous player this season.
The Fire cannot give him space on the ground and players like Austin Berry need to match Barnes in the air.
The possible return of Arne – if he returns, who moves to the bench?
Much of the talk this week in the Fire camp is the potential return of Arne Friedrich to a Fire back line that has been decimated by injuries at the beginning of the season.
Though everyone is looking forward to Arne’s return, it brings up a very tough tactical decision for head coach Frank Klopas, namely who plays at right back.
Wells Thompson has done a very solid job over the past two matches in that position, improving from a shaky first half against Chivas to having a standout game in last week’s win against NYRB.
Wells stated this week that he would like to “lock the down the spot and become a regular starter" and he certainly has put forth a good case to the coaches.
Thompson’s distribution out of the back is excellent and as the away team this week, the Fire will be looking to hold onto the ball for as long as possible and not be wasteful in possession.
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The other realistic candidate for the starting right back spot should Friedrich return is Jalil Anibaba, last season’s starter. Against a physical and big team like Houston, Jalil’s strength could be needed.
Anibaba is also excellent in the air and with players like Barnes and Bruin to contend with, Klopas may turn to the third-year defender.
Houston’s knack for scoring goals from set pieces is also well-known and Anibaba’s presence in the box could be all-important on Sunday afternoon.
The Dynamo's frequency of scoring from corners is such that the home fans get to their feet for every corner, expecting a goal or good chance to be created from each one.
Though there was a lot of talk about Logan Pause moving to right-back at the beginning of this season, I don’t see the Fire changing too much the in the midfield after last week’s performance.
A start for Jalil at right back would be tough on Wells Thompson after two great performances, but tactically, starting Anibaba would make the most sense.
Prediction: 1-1 with the Fire goal coming from Sherjill MacDonald
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.