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Three keys for the Houston Dynamo against the Chicago Fire

Build-up play and patience will be key for the Dynamo against the Fire.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Dynamo have to win on the road. What better way to start than a game against the worst team in MLS, the Chicago Fire?

Here's how they can grab a victory:

1. Push up!

That's the call Tyler Deric should be giving his defenders on Saturday.

The reason? The Fire don't play basically any offense. Whether they're playing a 5-3-2 or a deep-sitting 4-5-1, Veljko Paunovic does not appear to care all that much about getting players forward, and as a result, they don't get much of anything on goal.

They were held without a shot on target last week against the New England Revolution—the second time this season that's happened—and only got two on goal on Wednesday against New York. The Fire have generated very little all season, and the stats show that:


Total shots per game

Shots on goal per game

Chicago Fire



San Jose Earthquakes



Vancouver Whitecaps



Houston Dynamo



Real Salt Lake



Those are the lowest five teams in total shots per game, and the Fire are well below the rest of the league in both of the above categories. Also, they have the least amount of possession in MLS—even less than the Dynamo, who are a close second—and have less than one goal per game.

Their one real offensive weapon, speedy winger David Accamwill be suspended against the Dynamo. The Fire are in serious rebuilding mode right now.

So yeah, the Dynamo are entitled to send some players forward. The Revolution did it last week—playing winger Kellyn Rowe at right-back and starting two center-backs with attacking experience—and they won 2-0 with seven shots on goal. New England manager Jay Heaps openly admitted the reasoning.

"We thought, when you watch Chicago when they’re on the road, they drop into this five-back system and it really gives a lot of time for the outside backs to make plays," he told

The Dynamo should keep a high line (that's where Deric's communication comes in) and consistently send players into the attacking half. It's worked before and, unless the Fire make some significant changes, it'll work again.

2. Break them down

Once Houston gets the ball in more advanced positions—which will happen plenty—they will have to do something effective with it. That's hard to do against a bunkering team like Chicago.

With so many players stacked behind the ball, the Fire don't give up all that many goals. If you discount a 4-3 loss in the opening game of the season, they would be the only team besides Colorado that has given up less than 10 goals this season, and they have the best xGA (expected goals allowed) in the league according to American Soccer Analysis. They play good defense.

Look at their average positions from the RBNY game:

They cluster in the central areas and Zone 14, without many players consistently forward. For comparison, here's the Red Bulls':

And this is with New York holding a 1-0 lead for over a half-hour. Game states played a role in these, so there could be even more of a disparity if the Fire weren't chasing a goal for over a third of the game.

Chicago has some talented defenders—with foreign imports Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof and young Americans Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent—but the real reason they have mostly managed to keep the ball out of the net (on both sides of the field) is their excessive bunkering, and how many numbers they put behind the ball.

In other words, they take away a lot of offensive options: it's hard to put in crosses because you're outnumbered in the box every time, it's hard to send balls through the defense, and it's impossible to have skillful players go 1v1 down the middle or on the wings because there's always another defender behind the ball. Many teams resort to long shots and desperation crosses, and that just doesn't work.

The solution? Break them down. Pass the ball around, keep possession, and stay patient until somebody finds an opportunity to play a ball through or take a good shot. Make them chase the ball, and eventually, they'll make a mistake, and something like this will happen:

Good passing and a commitment to possession are required. It's the only way to put a goal past this Chicago team. As shown above, it can be done.

3. Hold-up play

In order to break them down, the striker—regardless of who they go with—has to improve at playing with his back to goal and linking passes, especially on the counter-attack. Too often this season, players like Giles Barnes and Andrew Wenger were left isolated on the wings and ended up losing the ball after failing to find a pass.

It's very important that Torres or Bruin is able to get on the ball and help in build-up play. It's key to breaking down the stout Fire defense.