On Sunday, the Houston Dynamo will take the field with MLS history on the line. That history is more important to the fans for bragging rights and pride. The Dynamo haven't lost a competitive match in Houston since June 2011 and currently are tied with Real Salt Lake for the longest home unbeaten streak in MLS history - 34 games. A win or draw on Sunday would break that record.
Ahead of the match, we talked with Ryan Sealock from SB Nation's Chicago Fire blog Hot Time in Old Town. In an effort to give you what the opponent is thinking and planning, we went behind enemy lines. Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to chat with us and here is what he had to say.
DT: Give us the lowdown on the Chicago Fire. Hailed as an Eastern Conference contender in the preseason, the Fire haven't gotten off to the best start. What's gone wrong and is it fixable?
I definitely think the problems are fixable. The team has had an abundance of injuries early, causing constant lineup shuffling and different faces in different positions every game so far. A lynchpin of the back line, Arne Friedrich, has been missing but is thankfully expected back on Sunday. In short, the Fire haven't really even had a choice XI out on the pitch yet this year.
All parts of the pitch have struggled so far except Sean Johnson. The back line has been shaky but put in a pretty good shift last week vs. New York (despite one defensive lapse). The midfield has been completely disjointed so far too but looked quite a bit better in the 2nd half against New York as. The forwards had been abducted and missing completely until last Sunday too. Maicon Santos came in the 2nd half to score a brace and get the Men in Red 3 points. I am sure you can see the correlation here. The Fire finally put in a collective team effort for 45 minutes and some good stuff happened. The team will certainly be looking to build on this come Sunday.
DT: In terms of the Chicago attack, midfield, and defense, what would you consider the strength of the team and the area that has the biggest opportunity so far this year?
Well, as I mentioned above, there hasn't been a whole lot to be happy about this year. Again I would have to say Sean Johnson. His pedigree is getting to be well known around the league now. As 3rd choice GK of the USMNT at such a young age, the guy can play. Although he has had some mental lapses and gaffes in the past here and there, he has really matured in the last year and made some big strides. All young GK's will have their struggles, but Sean has taken whatever has been thrown at him, dealt with it, and used the experience to get even better.
He has looked very good so far this year. While the Fire have given up goals, they have been ones that he couldn't do anything about. As the back line gets healthy and continues to solidify, it should make putting the ball in the back of the net against the Men in Red much harder to do. And having Sean Johnson in goal will make that even tougher. I consider him the top young GK in MLS and primed for a big step in his career in the next 2-3 years. Although there hasn't been a lot that has gone right so far this year barring last week, it's always a pleasure to watch Sean.
DT: Let's touch on the Houston home unbeaten streak. Is this something on the minds of Chicago players and fans? Does ending the streak matter to Chicago or is about more about getting some type of result - whether win or draw?
I have to admit that the streak is very impressive. Any time a team has to go into a tough place to play (especially where the home team seems almost invincible) it is a daunting task. I am sure the players are aware of the streak, but I don't think it's at the forefront of their minds. Simply put, the team is focusing on improving each game right now and trying to get a result in a tough environment. While 3 points would be great, honestly a draw would feel like a win in my book and I think in most other Fire fans eyes as well.
DT: Any significant injuries or changes to lineup expected?
Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka are still questionable for the match. Friedrich and Logan Pause figure to play. The Fire are inching closer to full health, but I have said that already a few times this year and it is yet to happen. I don't expect to see a dramatic shift in the lineup. I think the Fire will employ a more defensive look, trying to minimize Dynamo chances and hoping to get a lucky strike on a counter. I fully expect Frank to aim for a point in this one and his tactics will dictate as such. Expect to see the Fire lie deep and pack the area around the box.
DT: Prediction on score and overall thoughts on the match?
I will say a 1-0 Dynamo win. This will mark the 2nd week in a row that I have picked against the Fire. It worked out last week so maybe it will again? In all reality, this is a tough place to play. Getting 3 points seems insurmountable, let along struggling out a point. While the Fire on their form would inspire me to pick a narrow win or sure draw, we are still trying to find out footing. A loss in Houston isn't the end of the world, but it won't be easy for Houston either. I will say Will Bruin will score the winner later to pull a narrow one out for the Dynamo. But make no mistake this Fire team hasn't played anywhere near their best and will continue to get better. I will be much more confident later on this season when we meet again in July.