Getting past the Fire defense and finishing will be key Tuesday night for Brian Ching and the Dynamo.
I have a friend who runs marathons. She's a little older now and doesn't quite post the consistent Top 10 times that she used to. But she still is about as fit as I think it is humanly possible to be. The thing is, I looked at her schedule one time and asked her how, with so many events, she has time to train. Her response was simple: "I don't train. Each marathon I run is the training for the next one."
And that is about how I imagine the Houston Dynamo must be feeling right about now. For the second time this season, the Orange will follow a home Saturday game with a home Tuesday night game. The Chicago Fire, riding a three-game win streak over the likes of the New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew and Sporting KC, come a'calling Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
The first time we did this kind of turnaround was back on May 12 (the BBVA Compass Stadium-opening 1-0 win over the D(amned)C United) and May 14 (the 0-0 draw with the Portland Tree-murderers). Even better, this time around the game is going to be broadcast live on KPRC Local 2. I also saw on the Dynasite that local viewers are going to see a packed house, as there are fewer than 1,500 tickets still available. Also, it's Brad's Brigade Military Appreciation Night and there will be fireworks after the game. So if you haven't bought tickets yet, how many more reasons do you need?
So, nothing like a little challenge, eh?
Let's just a take a look at how much of a challenge. The first time Dynamo played Chicago this season, the game was halted due to electrical storms near Toyota Park, and the festivities ended in a 1-1 draw. There is little chance of lightning in the skies happening tomorrow night, or at least so says the National Weather Service. Lightning from the boots of the Orange players though? That's another story.
As for breaking down the Fire, let's go to the video Howard!
Captains Kamehameha and Davis, as well as Dom, laid it out all nice and succinct. The Fire have been steadily doing what we want to do for the last three weeks, moving up the standings by playing and beating the teams ahead of and right next to them. But they might just be up against it in their first visit to the Cage. The Dynamo have not lost a home game in over a year, with their last coming on June 18, 2011 in a 2-0 loss to the Crew. The Dynamo are unbeaten in 15 consecutive home games (playoffs included), spanning the final nine games at Robertson Stadium and the first six games at our new playpen. Want to know what that history means? Here you go:
Exactly. Still, recent history does indeed count. We all know that Dynamo have gone 1-1-1 with some absolutely awful play mixed in with some amazing stuff over the last three games. No point in going over all of that here. But the Fire, on the other hand, have been scorching the Eastern standings, and now sit confidently with 27 points through 16 games, while Dynamo have 23 over that same amount. Here's a look at Chicago's last three.
First, last Friday night, the Fire made a scheduled layover on their way to Houston in Kansas City, besting the Sporks 0-1. Feast your peepers here to see how it was done:
Wow, is it just me or was the Fire lucky to get out of there with the W? Also, am I seeing Sean Johnson in goal there wearing the same or a very similar color as the rest of his team or at the very least the same color as the Dynamo third kit? Also, at about the 1:52 mark or so, Dominic Oduro has a point blank shot and bounces it right off the keeper. I know he was good last year and has played pretty well so far, but really, how many times did we see THAT when he was here? And if you think that was a one-time deal, forward to the 4:55 mark. Now compare that to Marco Pappa's goal, also point blank, though a little farther out, which tucks under Jimmy Nielsen's arm and in. Where was the Spork defense on that one?
And then, continuing the theme of former Dynamo strikers letting down their team, how many chances was Kei Kamara going to get there? It seemed to be as many as he wanted, but he either sent it off frame or to Johnson.
One person you will not see there is Sebastián Grazzini, and neither will you again on Tuesday night. Apparently, Frank Klopas and the Argentine are not getting along and, well, drama ensues. From what I heard, Grazzini wanted to go home to Argentina and was shocked to find out that actually, when the Fire renewed his contract last month, he had to stay in the US of A, so he's having a sad. Anyone have any other info on this?
Lesson: the Fire did just enough to win, and if you fall asleep on defense, they might just punish you, unless the striker's name is Oduro.
So, the Way Back Machine is going backward now to June 23rd and a 2-1 Fire win at Toyota Park over Columbus. Turn the volume down because the guy who starts the commentary there will hurt your ears.
(You didn't turn the volume down like I told you, did you? Too bad. Some things, when heard, cannot be unheard. Unca Martek tries to help. He tries to warn people. But some people, they don't want to be helped. Go ahead! Listen to it. Turn up the volume. And please get your aural specialist to send me a cut.)
Once again, the man with the scoring plan was Marco Pappa. But all that stuff I just wrote about Oduro above, just edit all of that stuff out except for this part "has played pretty well so far" OK? And yes, he sould have gotten a PK call at the 6:45 mark. That was indeed a nicely taken daisy-cutter of a goal. Well done. On the red card, well, I made a mistake of turning the sound back on and heard the guy say that Gonzalo Segares is "not a malicious player." Mute buttons are wonderful things and I really need to use them more often. I almost swallowed my gum.
Still, once again, the Fire, after starting strongly, were pretty lucky to get a win here. If it weren't for Sean Johnson playing like a man possessed, Columbus could have gotten something out of this. A little better road finishing was all they needed.
So now we head back to June 17, still at Toyota Park, and a Fire 3-1 beat down of the Red Bulls. Feast thine eyes thusly:
I have to say, I would much, much prefer to have American voices broadcasting MLS (Phil Schoen anyone?), but I loves me some Arlo White. As for that first, early goal from Patrick Nyarko? Yummy, delicious. If that kid could finish like that more often, Chicago would be known for far more than as the team that invented Bob Bradley.
On the Dax McCarty goal, wow, what a sleepy defensive effort, though Markus Holgersson perhaps should have been called offside on that. Also, Oduro, you definitely got robbed there. That ball was well over the line, though justice was definitely served in the end.
So to sum up, the Fire are a lot more dangerous than our previous three opponents. On form right now, you'd have to say they are one of the best in MLS. They have been striking early and late to get these wins over tough, tough teams.
But they are streaky. Sure, they've won three in a row, but before that they lost three out of their previous four. The only win came over FC Dallas, and hey, who doesn't do that these days? Do those games even count in MLS anymore? As you saw in these videos, the Chicago defense may have managed a clean sheet in Missouri, but they have made Sean Johnson work awfully hard at times, and if you're relying too much on your keeper, you have got to figure that's going to bite you in the end.
So the formula is a going to be a familiar one. Make the most of your chances, win on the wings, keep the ball and, above all, play a full 90 on defense. Relax on any of these, and the Fire's success might continue at our hands.
And a memo to Sean Johnson, wear that color you wore in KC again tomorrow night, and you'd better be willing to pay royalty fees.