The Houston Dynamo are coming off a 1-0 US Open Cup win over the Colorado Rapids and look to rectify back-to-back 2-0 MLS regular season defeats to Portland and Dallas against Eastern Conference opponent the Chicago Fire. In many ways, the Fire are a lot like the Dynamo as they've been hurting for wins in the same way the Dynamo have. The Dynamo will have their Reggae Boyz in Jermaine Taylor and Giles Barnes before the two head out to the Jamaican International Team camp ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup so the two will need to do work ahead of their departure.
In our preview of the match we discussed several players with the Fire that possess plenty of offensive potential along with a brief statistical breakdown of each team, but we wanted to hear from Chicago's side of things so we spoke with Sean Spence of Hot Time in Old Town to understand the Fire's approach to this game.
Dynamo Theory: Chicago is in a similar position as Houston as both cities sit on the outside of the current MLS playoff picture. Additionally both teams have struggled as of late in the MLS regular season, with Houston dropping the previous 2 in a row while Chicago hasn't posted an MLS victory since their 3-0 May 30th win over the Montreal Impact. What's going on with the Fire and how are they looking to remedy those woes against the Dynamo?
Hot Time in Old Town: What's going on with the Fire is they're not good at winning soccer matches. Playing soccer, yes - they're quite good at playing it. But the bits having to do with winning - scoring goals after a lovely passing sequence, or winning the fight for a crucial ball, or staying focused down the stretch - those bits are elusive right now. The Men in Red have lost four in a row in MLS, and almost every imaginable way: They dominated DC for a half before losing, 3-1; collapsed down the stretch to fall to Orlando, 3-2; got spanked while shorthanded against New England, 2-0; and got nipped by a great goal in what otherwise would've been a scoreless draw, again against DC.
There's unrest in the fan base, rumors of public protests to come in the July 11 match against Seattle - being 20th out of 20 on the overall table has a focusing effect. The mood around the team is quiet and ugly. Add to that, the roster is unsettled due to injury and international call-ups - the Fire will be missing Shaun Maloney (bulging discs), David Accam (hamstring), and Joevin Jones (T&T Gold Cup squad) on Friday night.
Point is, this is a technical staff and a roster under increasing pressure to produce results, or at least show a plan at the end of which results could be expected. Frankly, anything is possible against Houston, especially on a sloppy field, after cross-country travel, 72 hours after the previous game. So far, Frank Yallop has reverted to a simple, deep lying 4-4-2 whenever doubt creeps in, so there's that.
DT: The Fire are coming off an impressive 3-1 Open Cup win over the Charlotte Independence which featured many first team players. What kind of adjustments will Chicago make traveling down to (the currently soaked from all the rain) Houston?
HTiOT:It's hard to say how much rotation Yallop will call for. The Fire do have eight days until the next match after this one, but no one wants to start a player knowing they cannot last 90 minutes. It's hard to imagine that Mike Magee starts after playing 90 minutes three days ago - his first extended action this year. Patrick Nyarko also made a short, emotional appearance Tuesday, but looks like he'll need serious fitness training before he'll be ready to start.
In terms of people who were rested - both Jeff Larentowicz and Razvan Cocis sat out the Open Cup game; since both were lockdown starters previously; I'd assume they're back on Friday. It's possible new guy Ty Harden could see some minutes, especially if Adailton needs a rest. Harry Shipp started on Tuesday, but did get subbed off; I'd expect to see him again. And Kennedy Igboananike is in frankly incredible shape - if he doesn't start, he'll be a second-half sub.
DT: Speaking of that impressive Open Cup win, Mike Magee played a huge role in helping the Fire advance in the tournament. Is his potential resurgence, along with defensive acquisition Ty Harden, reason to get excited about a midseason playoff push? The Fire do have some games in hand after all...
HTiOT: I'd like to respond by posting that Jim Mora "Playoffs? You're asking about PLAYOFFS?!?" video*. But you're right - the Fire may be on the bottom of the overall table, but they've got as many as five games in hand on several teams. If they can halt the rot and start picking up points, they'll be back in the hunt - it helps that Chicago is in the Eastern Conference, where the race for that sixth playoff slot will look a bit like a chum bucket down the stretch. And yes, Magee's return (if his form against Charlotte is a guide) will solve the Fire's lingering problem with creating boatloads of chances that no one can finish.
However, the Men in Red's defensive problems continue unabated, despite a second total makeover in as many seasons, and their efforts to become a possession team to alleviate the constant pressure on the defenders has apparently come to an end in the last month. I'd suggest that any MLS team who looks gratefully at the acquisition of Ty Harden as a potential solution for their defensive issues is likely fully in denial about the seriousness of those issues.
Projected lineup: This is tricky because of the travel and fatigue - some rotation is inevitable. But Tuesday's lineup was itself a rotation, so...
Chicago Fire (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson; Greg Cochrane, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (c), Lovel Palmer; Razvan Cocis, Matt Polster; Jason Johnson, Harry Shipp, Michael Stephens; Kennedy Igboananike.
Prediction: 0-0 draw on a pitch like a rice paddy.
To find my answers to Sean's questions head on over to Hot Time in Old Town and go check them out. He asked some excellent questions, so please check it out (while being as respectful as possible).