With the Charities Cup behind us in the form of a 2-0 victory over EPL side Stoke City, the Houston Dynamo get set to continue league play this Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium. After a bye last weekend, the Dynamo will face the Chicago Fire for the second time this season. Their first meeting this season is definitely well remembered, a 2-1 Dynamo victory here in Houston that broke the MLS record for longest home unbeaten streak across all competitions.
Since then, many things have changed. The Dynamo side of things we know well - including a surprising 2-2-1 at home since that victory and a seven match winless streak in league play that has raised some as of yet fully unanswered questions. That being said, two league victories plus Wednesday night's win over a Stoke City playing its first preseason friendly have given the Dynamo something to build up. To do so, however, they'll have to get past a Chicago side that has seen a lot of improvement since the Dynamo last saw them in April.
What's changed for the Fire, you may ask? It all starts with one man: Mike Magee. It's been almost exactly two months since he came to his hometown side in a trade for Robbie Rogers, and the Fire have emulated their name, going 8-2-2 across all competitions in that time. Magee has six goals in eight league matches with the Fire (he had six in ten appearances with the Galaxy before the trade). He hasn't scored in bunches, but he's been consistent in a way that strikers dream of.
With Magee providing a spark, a team that had added Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz and Maicon Santos, among others, heated up, and only good form by the clubs ahead of them in the tables has kept them out of the playoff picture so far. Though they've cooled off a little (key phrase here is "a little") since their post-trade run, they still only sit five points out of the fifth place spot in the Eastern Conference.
While the addition of Ecuadorian striker Juan Luis Anangono may provide the Fire with yet another spark, as of this moment, the Fire have yet to receive his paperwork, meaning that it's extremely unlikely that the Dynamo will see him this time around. Still, the players mentioned above are enough, and with Chicago, one must always also watch for Chris Rolfe and Daniel Paladini (returning from suspension) as well. The one bright spot for the Dynamo in this regard is the fact that Fire keeper Sean Johnson remains with the national team as they prepare for Sunday's final.
On the Dynamo side, Will Bruin is still with the national team as well, though as I mentioned earlier this week, Corey Ashe has returned to the fold. Another return that Dynamo fans were happy to see was Brad Davis, who got 24 minutes of play in on Wednesday. Jason Johnson saw playing time against Stoke, as did Bryan Salazar (officially, Salazar saw a single minute), and Johnson's performance might have fans clamoring to see him in a league match - especially since Omar Cummings seems to be injured again. With Bruin away, the Dynamo's sketchy depth at striker gets even thinner, so if Johnson can play minutes at the league level, it might be time to give him more minutes (he has 121 total over five league matches this season).
Wednesday's match may have been a friendly, but there were signs to be glad of. For the first time since May, Giles Barnes and Andrew Driver - two players who helped carry the Dynamo earlier in the season - scored. Driver's was a set piece goal, which is something that Dynamo fans haven't seen much of this season (at least in our favor). Barnes scored off the run of play, and while it won't go on any official stats this season, it might turn out to be a very important goal where his confidence is concerned. Yes, it was very early in the preseason for Stoke, but what little I saw of Tyler Deric makes me glad that he's our backup keeper. I'm not yet sure whether or not I'd trust him all the time with the first team, but the prospect of losing Tally Hall isn't as panic inducing, knowing that Deric is waiting in the wings.
This will be a mid-season match between two clubs close to each other in the table. Both are relatively close to optimal rosters, and both are riding momentum. While it won't have the same do-or-die implications as their postseason meeting last October, it should be a well-played contest. A win for the Dynamo gives them 32 points and keeps them right in the thick of the Eastern Conference. One always hopes for wins at home, but like I always say: there's no such thing as a given three points in this sport. One thing is for sure: only ninety minutes on the pitch of BBVA Compass Stadium will tell us what the Dynamo will take from this match.