Seventeen matches down and seventeen to go, the Houston Dynamo know they need a strong finish to have a post-season. Houston sits ninth in the highly competitive Western Conference with a six-point gap keeping them outside the playoffs. The team certainly appears to be playing better than last season (and they are - at this stage in 2014, they had just 14 points) but there are still unanswered questions that the Dynamo are trying to figure out.
The team they face on Friday night know that feeling well. Led by ex-San Jose coach Frank Yallop, the Chicago Fire are trying to work their existing players into Yallop's system. So far, it hasn't worked. Chicago sit at the bottom of a weak Eastern Conference with the second-most losses in the league.
While the team leads all other clubs in shots, they're nearly last in goals scored. Part of that is due to a hip injury that has, until recently, kept 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee sidelined. The 14-year veteran is perhaps the most instrumental force of Chicago's attack and his absence has certainly gone noticed. Forward David Accam, while leading the team in goals, has not been able to translate that to victories and Chicago have struggled to find other avenues of offense.
Both teams enter BBVA Compass Stadium coming off midweek Open Cup victories, advancing to the Quarterfinals. Chicago, led by Magee's first two goals of the year, put a 3-1 beating on USL's Charlotte Independence perhaps signaling that Magee is match fit enough to get a start on Friday.
Houston retains the services of the Jamaicans (Giles Barnes and Jermaine Taylor) for one more match before sending them off to Gold Cup training camp. Brad Davis, who was ruled out of the Gold Cup due to his nagging bone bruise, could gather some minutes on Friday along with Mauro Manotas, the 19-year old Colombian who scored the game-winning goal against Colorado in the Open Cup on Tuesday.
Hamstring injuries have hit Chicago's David Accam and Houston's Rob Lovejoy, jeopardizing their status for the match. This is particularly interesting because whoever lines up along the left midfield line will have the task of guarding Chicago's second-year midfielder Harry Shipp.
The homegrown player put up stunning numbers last season for a rookie and is on pace to match this year. Already with two goals and five assists under his belt, Shipp will be the player to suppress and, with Davis and Lovejoy injured, it may be on Leonel Miranda to disrupt his possession.
The Dynamo host Chicago Fire at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday, July 3rd at 8:00PM CDT. The match can be seen on Univision Deportes. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at HoustonDynamo.com.