It's going to be a tall task this week for the Men in Red. The Dynamo are unbeaten at home in the last 34 games. The difference between a Houston team at home and on the road is as different as night and day. While BBVA only opened last year, it hasn't made things any easier for visiting teams. So it is with this in mind that I contacted Stephen Eastepp over at Dynamo Theory to get intel ahead of the match.
Enjoy, and we'll see you back here for the rest of our run up to the game.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Dynamo Theory
1. Given Houston's impressive record at home, will the success of the Dynamo this season depend on how well they play away from home? (via Adam Merges)
I absolutely think so. Houston has always been tough at home - and they'll always remain one of the best home teams in MLS. Their downfall has been recent form on the road. I broke down some of those road statistics prior to the Portland game and highlighted that Houston has lost more than fifty percent of their matches on the road in two of the past three seasons.
They don't have to have to win every game, but the Dynamo must improve the percentage of points they get on road matches. No one is happy with Houston sneaking into the playoffs - the team wants more security as the close of the regular season approaches. Last year was unnerving heading into the final few weeks of the season and Houston's road record improving will help prevent a repeat of that.
2. Houston has started off with 9 points in 5 games. However, the team will be coming off a 2-0 shutout at the hands of Portland on April 6th. What do you think the Dynamo will do to try to bounce back? (via Ryan Sealock)
Houston's plan is simple come Sunday - win. That's what they'll want to right the ship after a lopsided result in Portland. The Dynamo came into the Portland game expecting a tough game, but not for the Timbers to put on a show in the second half.
Even without Will Bruin and Boniek Garcia, Houston has the depth to play quality ball and that didn't happen, especially in the second half. The guys will want a good showing against Chicago and most importantly get off to a good, quick start.
The Dynamo will look for the early goal to boost their confidence and gain control of the match. Possession in the midfield will be key after Portland disrupted that and stopped Houston from connecting to their forwards.
3. What do you think the biggest key matchup will be on Sunday that will decide the outcome of the game? (via Ryan Sealock)
I think the key for Houston will be to regain that dominance in the midfield. So the biggest matchup will be the battle for the middle of the field. If Chicago can eliminate the Dynamo midfield threat like Portland did, it'll be a long painful match for Houston.
Whether Boniek Garcia is back on the right side or not, Houston has to put in a better performance to keep their home success going. This could be the week where we see Omar Cumming start and Giles Barnes pushed into a CAM role, which I've wanted from the start of the season. That would force either Adam Moffat or Ricardo Clark to a reserve role, but could bolster the offensive creativity of the Dynamo midfield even further.
We'll see come Sunday, but the midfield is where this game will be won or lost.
4. The Dynamo have had a scoring by committee approach so far this year, no one is really standing out so far. Is this expected? Do you think that someone will step up and be a double digit goal scorer this year? (via Ryan Sealock)
Was this expected - not at all. With Will Bruin breaking out last year and setting a new Dynamo record for goals scored in a season, everyone in Houston was (and still is) expecting him to build on that. Additionally, there are high hopes for a productive scoring season for Omar Cummings. Injuries have limited him thus far, but we'll start to see him more starting Sunday.
As for the scoring by committee approach, even though it's unexpected this year, it doesn't worry the Dynamo or the fans. In all honesty, this has been a normal routine for Houston since Dwayne De Rosario left the Dynamo. In recent years, even defenders have shared the team lead on goals.
Ultimately, while unexpected, it's not a concern for Houston and as long as the goals continue to come, this team doesn't worry about who they're from.
Dynamo Theory Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Give us the lowdown on the Chicago Fire. Hailed as an Eastern Conference contender in the preseason, the Fire haven't gotten off to the best start. What's gone wrong and is it fixable?
I definitely think the problems are fixable. The team has had an abundance of injuries early, causing constant lineup shuffling and different faces in different positions every game so far. A lynchpin of the back line, Arne Friedrich, has been missing but is thankfully expected back on Sunday. In short, the Fire haven't really even had a choice XI out on the pitch yet this year.
All parts of the team have struggled so far except Sean Johnson. The back line has been shaky but put in a pretty good shift last week vs. New York (despite one defensive lapse). The midfield has been completely disjointed so far too but looked quite a bit better in the 2nd half against New York. The forwards had been abducted and missing completely until last Sunday too. Maicon Santos came in the 2nd half to score a brace and get the Men in Red 3 points. I am sure you can see the correlation here. The Fire finally put in a collective team effort for 45 minutes and some good stuff happened. The team will certainly be looking to build on this come Sunday.
2. In terms of the Chicago attack, midfield, and defense, what would you consider the strength of the team and the area that has the biggest opportunity so far this year?
Well, as I mentioned above, there hasn't been a whole lot to be happy about this year. Again I would have to say Sean Johnson. His pedigree is getting to be well known around the league now. As 3rd choice GK of the USMNT at such a young age, the guy can play. Although he has had some mental lapses and gaffes in the past here and there, he has really matured in the last year and made some big strides. All young GK's will have their struggles, but Sean has taken whatever has been thrown at him, dealt with it, and used the experience to get even better.
He has looked very good so far this year. While the Fire have given up goals, they have been ones that he couldn't do anything about. As the back line gets healthy and continues to solidify, it should make putting the ball in the back of the net against the Men in Red much harder to do. And having Sean Johnson in goal will make that even tougher. I consider him the top young GK in MLS and primed for a big step in his career in the next 2-3 years. Although there hasn't been a lot that has gone right so far this year barring last week, it's always a pleasure to watch Sean.
3. Let's touch on the Houston home unbeaten streak. Is this something on the minds of Chicago players and fans? Does ending the streak matter to Chicago or is it more about getting some type of result - whether win or draw?
I have to admit that the streak is very impressive. Any time a team has to go into a tough place to play (especially where the home team seems almost invincible) it is a daunting task. I am sure the players are aware of the streak, but I don't think it's at the forefront of their minds. Simply put, the team is focusing on improving each game right now and trying to get a result in a tough environment. While 3 points would be great, honestly a draw would feel like a win in my book and I think in most other Fire fans eyes as well.
4. Any significant injuries or changes to lineup expected?
Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka are still questionable for the match. Friedrich and Logan Pause figure to play. The Fire are inching closer to full health, but I have said that already a few times this year and it is yet to happen. I don't expect to see a dramatic shift in the lineup. I think the Fire will employ a more defensive look, trying to minimize Dynamo chances and hoping to get a lucky strike on a counter. I fully expect Frank to aim for a point in this one and his tactics will dictate as such. Expect to see the Fire lie deep and pack the area around the box.
Prediction on score and outcome of the match?
I will say a 1-0 Dynamo win. This will mark the 2nd week in a row that I have picked against the Fire. It worked out last week so maybe it will again? In all reality, this is a tough place to play. Getting 3 points seems insurmountable, let along struggling out a point. While the Fire on their form would inspire me to pick a narrow win or sure draw, we are still trying to find out footing. A loss in Houston isn't the end of the world, but it won't be easy for Houston either. I will say Will Bruin will score the winner late to pull a narrow one out for the Dynamo. But make no mistake this Fire team hasn't played anywhere near their best and will continue to get better. I will be much more confident later on this season when we meet again in July.