Often the phrase "must win" gets thrown around when talking about an important match. To be honest, a must win can happen at numerous parts of a season when a team is on the verge of going one way or the other. Tomorrow's match in Toyota Park against the streaking Chicago Fire is as close to a must win as you get for the Houston Dynamo.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is as clear as mud right now, with the top seven clubs separated by just eight points. Houston and Chicago are right in the thick of things, with a difference of only one point between the two. With just eight games left in 2012, the Dynamo can't afford to drop points. Quite frankly, the last two matches for Houston were winnable. In fact, I'd go as far as saying they should have won both considering the opponents. But we know what happened, two draws that have kept the other Eastern Conference team within reach of the Dynamo.
The Fire game is not only a must win, it's going to be a tough win. While we've enjoyed the fruits of our Houston heat in BBVA Compass Stadium, Toyota Park has been a good fortress for Chicago. The Fire have won 8 of 12 games, giving up only 11 goals at home. Mix that in with the inconsistent results Houston has been able to obtain on the road, and it makes for a nerve racking game for Dynamo fans. While history doesn't always repeat itself, Houston does boast a decent record in Chicago with three wins, one loss, and three draws.
Chicago's recent form, Houston's lack of a killer instinct, and how missing players will impact the game after the jump.
Chicago's recent form has been a big help to their run up the Eastern Conference, going 3-1-1 in their last five, including a three game winning streak mixed in. Last week, D.C. United ended that streak with a 4-2 win over the Fire in RFK Stadium and Chicago will be looking to rebound from such a high scoring loss. Not to discredit the Fire's recent success, but the three wins came over Toronto, Philadelphia, and New England. All of those are teams a serious contender should beat and Chicago certainly proved they're serious about making a run at the playoffs.
After an unbeaten July, Houston's August has left the team a desire for a killer instinct. After climbing to the top spot in the East, a draw with Columbus and last place Toronto kept them in the middle of the playoff race. While Chicago capitalized on their weaker opponents, Houston didn't close out two winnable games, both at home.
Houston's heavy home schedule has now evened out as there are four games left at home and on the road. That means Houston will need to be able to get points no matter where they play in order to secure their shot at the playoffs. Sunday night's game kicks off three tough matches for the men in orange, with Real Salt Lake (home) and Kansas City (away) lurking after Chicago.
Missing Players Could Have an Impact
This week the Chicago Fire announced midfielder Marco Pappa would join Dutch club SC Heerenveen on an immediate transfer rather than original reports that had the Guatemalan joining the team in 2013. The immediate effects of Pappa's departure from the team have yet to be seen, but the midfielder was an intrical part of Chicago's success over the last few seasons. This year, Pappa led the Fire in goals (6) and was second in assists (5).
Former Dynamo forward Dominic Oduro had an incredible run in 2011, but has quickly come back down to earth in 2012 with five goals in 24 appearances this season. Oduro still has a special place in his heart to rain on an orange parade, so he can never be counted out when facing his former club.
For Houston, Alex Dixon (heat illness), Warren Creavalle (ankle sprain), and Brad Davis (illness) are listed out for Sunday's match. Davis is the only starter listed on the injury report, and his absence will surely be felt as the 2011 MVP runner up is closing in on another career year, currently sitting on six goals and ten assists. For Houston to win this match, the midfield will have to step up and compensate for Davis' absence.
While both meetings in 2012 have ended in draws, this is a match where a win is a game changer - for both clubs. Each team will be looking for the early goal and has the defense to protect the lead. I think mentally, the absence of Marco Pappa will be more vital and the Chicago attack won't be as organized or as dangerous without him. If the Dynamo want to put their name in the hat for believable contenders, they'll have to start here with a win. Will Bruin has his swagger back after netting his 11th goal last week against Toronto, but will need to be more consistent down the stretch.
I think the Dynamo are fully aware of the repercussions of a loss in Chicago and will come out "fired" up for a win. I'm going with Houston 2, Chicago 1 as the Dynamo aim for bigger things in the East.