Chicago Fire to face fellow regular season juggernauts Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy

This week the Chicago Fire will take on both of the teams that played in the 2011 MLS Cup Final

Maintaining success in MLS has always been very difficult. When you dig a little into the league's history and structure, it's not surprising to see why. The roster rules have constantly changed. The financial state of teams has meant that the best younger players are sold off to better leagues. The foreign players have typically tired of an American adventure after two or three years. Few teams have been models of consistency in the 17 year history of Major League Soccer. Exceptions do exist though and that makes it a special week around here.

One of the exceptions to this rule is our own Chicago Fire. Two other exceptions are the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy. Over the years Los Angeles (1996-present) has averaged 1.55 points per game. Chicago (1998-present) has averaged 1.51 points per game and Houston (2006-present) has averaged 1.49 points per game. Only the Seattle Sounders have done better (2009-present with 1.66 pts per game) and the next closest teams are the Columbus Crew (1996-present) and the San Jose Earthquakes (1996-2005 & 2007-present) who both have averaged 1.43 points per game.

That's quite a wide gap when you spread it out over 600-700 games for the older clubs. It will be interesting to see if Houston and Seattle will still have such good numbers when they add another 300 or so games to their total.

Opposition Head Coaches

Chicago's Frank Klopas will have his hands full on Tuesday when the Fire square off against Dominic Kinnear's Houston Dynamo. Kinnear has been the head coach of the Dynamo since the team started in 2006. The Scottish-born manager likes to use a physical game that takes advantage of tall players and midfielder Brad Davis' golden foot on set pieces. Houston's brand new stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, has tiny field dimensions of 115 yards by 70 yards to match their former home, Robertson Stadium. As Steve Davis points out, there's more room to make the field full-size but it's smaller because Kinnear wanted it that way. Little touches like that have helped Dominic Kinnear keep Houston a perennial contender since 2006 despite the fact that the only two players that are still around since then are Brad Davis and Brian Ching.

When the Fire return to Chicago, they will host Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy at Toyota Park on Sunday, July 8th. Arena first led D.C. United to the MLS Cup in 1996 and 1997, the Supporters' Shield in 1997, the U.S. Open Cup in 1998 and the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 1998. After Arena found mixed results coaching the USMNT and New York Red Bulls between 1998 to 2007, the Brooklyn born coach took over as the Galaxy's head coach and has been leading the club ever since. One could call taking over a club that had Landon Donovan and David Beckham on it ‘Phil Jacksonesque' but Arena has done a marvelous job as demonstrated by a MLS Cup appearance in 2009, MLS Cup victory in 2011, and Supporters' Shield trophies in 2010 and 2011. Gregg Mixdorf and I had a small debate on the Hot Time In Old Town podcast last week. I picked Arena and Gregg picked Kinnear.

Frank Klopas

Klopas has no choice but to face both top notch veteran coaches in the next two games. This will be a great test for the Fire skipper as he has roster questions up in the air, 3 games in 3 cities in 10 days, and stiff competition. Fire Confidential's Guillermo Rivera is reporting that Grazzini is all but a certain out against Houston. Speculation that Grazzini will be sold or traded just got a little louder.

No Grazzini would be killer for a Fire squad that put out a full strength lineup on Friday in Kansas City. A lineup of Sean Johnson; Dan Gargan, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Dan Gargan; Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo; Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Marco Pappa; Dominic Oduro only has so much room for replacements. Rivera also reported that Rafael Robayo is looking at a tough injury and the latest MLS injury report lists Federico Puppo as doubtful with an ankle sprain. Look for Alex, Orr Barouch, Corben Bone, Daniel Paladini, and maybe even Victor Pineda to make the bench. Klopas replacing Pardo with Paladini in Houstin is a good bet. I wouldn't mind seeing something like Rolfe starting up in the place of Oduro while Alex plays in the role Grazzini and Rolfe have played this year. Nyarko leads the team in minutes and Alex could spot him too. Oduro is the best candidate to sit as we saw how the Portland Timbers were able to shut him down on a similarly undersized field.

The Fire responded well at the beginning of May between the 4th and the 12th. They went 2-0-1 against Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, and Sporting KC but two of those games were home games. When they played Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, Columbus Crew, Michigan Bucks, and New England Revolution between May 20th and June 2nd, the team went 1-0-4 with four of those games being road games. The one big difference between those two condensed swings: Arne Friedrich. Chicago is 5-1-2 when the German center back makes an appearance and 3-4-1 when he doesn't play. That record mirrors the Fire's home/away split. His presence solves a lot problems and it's great to have him healthy again.

Notes

  • Chicago's 27 points in 16 games puts the team on pace for 57 points. That would tie Chicago's all-time mark set in 2000. However, the 2000 season did have 32 games versus 2012's 34 games.
  • The Fire's road record improved to 3-4-1 with Friday's win in Kansas City. Only New York, Kansas City, San Jose, Salt Lake, Seattle, and Chivas USA have at least as many road wins as road losses.
  • The team's 1-0 shutout in Kansas City represented the first Fire shutout on the road versus a full strength opponent since June 12, 2011 when Chicago shutout Columbus 1-0.
  • Chicago is now 8-5-3. It took the Fire until October 15 to get their 8th win last year. That's a 107 day improvement. It took the the Fire until July 9th to get their 5th loss last year. That was a -37 day regression. Chicago's 3rd tie came on April 30th in 2011 and May 9th in 2012. That's a 10 day difference.
  • Frank Klopas' record as head coach now stands at 16-10-13.
  • The last time Chicago played in Houston, the Fire drew 1-1 on October 1, 2011. The last time Chicago played the LA Galaxy at home, the Fire lost 2-1 on April 17, 2011. Oduro scored the lone goal in each match. The goals represented his first and last goals of the 2011 season.
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