After defeating the New York Red Bulls last weekend, April is already turning out to be a better month for the Chicago Fire than March. The Fire played their best game of this young MLS season and were able to triple their goal output for the season by winning against New York 3-1. Logan Pause came back from injury to anchor the midfield and Joel Lindpere played his best game as a Fire player after being slotted on the wing in place of Dilly Duka who was still out due to injury. The surprise of the match to me was the play of second year left back Hunter Jumper. He provided the cross that set up the goal that tied the game right before halftime. That goal was scored by the man of the match Daniel Paladini, who also provided 2 assists for Maicon Santos 2 goals. Last Sunday it seemed as though the Men in Red were clicking on all cylinders and Frank's game plan worked against Mike Petke's Red Bulls. Now that the Fire have their first win of the season they look to ride the momentum as they travel to Houston on Sunday.
Unlike the Fire, Houston head into Sunday's match coming of a 2-0 loss to Portland at JELD-WEN Field. Being outplayed by the Timbers, losing the possession battle 61%-39%, Dominic Kinnear's men look to change that around quickly against the Fire. No better place for the Dynamo to change their fortunes than at home in the BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston has an astonishing 14-0-6 record in their new home since it opened in May of the 2012 season. Those numbers remind me of what the Fire used to do back in old Soldier Field. The reigning Eastern Conference Playoff Champions look to continue using their home field to push their way back up the standings to become one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
Dominic Kinnear has used a consistent 4-4-2 throughout the years and right now does have many injuries to deal with (Bruin and Carr both listed as out):
Frank Klopas last weekend had a few injuries (Duka, Alex, Nyarko, and Segares) and match fitness (Friedrich) to deal with when figuring his starting XI. The injury report does not have those players listed so this is what Frank could possibly put on the Field:
Dominic Kinnear has proven over the years that he is very good at adjusting his tactics to counter his opponent's tactics. If it has been replacing someone in his lineup that better suits his team's needs for that particular game or if it is adjusting his formation just a little he rarely gets it wrong to the point that Houston gets blown out by any team. Kinnear's record of 2 MLS Cups and 4 MLS Finals in the last 6 years speaks for itself. Last week was one of Houston's off weeks though and I'm sure Kinnear will adjust accordingly to try to rebound at home. If we look back at what he did in the playoff game against us last season, he showed that he could counter Frank's tactics no problem. I can see Kinnear applying the same kind of tactics again as he will look for his players to apply high pressure and also take the key Fire players out of the game by using pressure physically. We have seen that when teams are physical with the Fire it throws their game off and they are unable to regroup. It will also be interesting to see what kind formation Kinnear will go with. He has always used a 4-4-2, but in the middle of the field he has been known to use a diamond, flat four, and even withdrawing one of the forwards right in front of the midfielders.
For the Fire the question is will Frank stick with the same lineup that out worked New York or will he have some of his injured players back this week? Depending on the injuries, I can see Frank leaving some of the lineup the same. His tactics he used last week worked really well as the main thing I noticed is that the Fire worked harder than the Red Bulls to take the 3 points. The same will be needed in Houston on Sunday. Frank still has to address the problem of what he does to counter the high pressure that opposing teams use against the Men in Red. Frank had the Fire playing well in the 2nd half of last Sunday's game, but in the first half the Fire were outplayed because of the high pressure that New York had used. I can see Frank using mainly a counter attacking style this week because they are playing away from home and against Houston. It helps that Frank will have Pause again in the midfield as he played well against New York. Frank will have to somehow come up with a plan "B" just in case his original plan does not work. I think that what would work best for him is that if he leaves the central mids(Pause and Lawrentowicz) the same this will allow the wings as well as the forwards to play higher and create more chances. If the Fire does not attack the Dynamo then it can turn into a long afternoon.
- Fire's left back vs. Garcia- The Honduran has shown in his time here that he can affect any game. In games Garcia will normally start out wide and come into the center to attract the attention of the opposing defense. Sometimes he will just take the opposing left back one-on-one to try to beat them in order to make a good cross into the box. If the Fire's left back can shut him down the then the Dynamo will be forced to go through the middle which I believe is the Fire's strength. The way that Garcia can be shut down is by playing him physically and not giving him any space. This should be no problem for Segares.
- Fire's forwards vs. Boswell and Taylor- Boswell and Taylor are 2 of the biggest center backs in the league and can muscle any forward off the ball. The one thing that they do lack is the speed to be able to keep up with the speedy forwards that find open space in which to work with. If Santos/Macdonald can do their job in holding off the center backs and allowing Rolfe or Nyarko to make the runs, the Fire should have no problem creating offensive chances. If Houston's center backs get the best of the Fire's Forwards then it will be a long afternoon for the Fire's attack.
Houston's Oscar Boniek Garcia can be one of those players that needs to be closely watched. He plays out on the wing but can create something out of nothing even though mainly sticking to the outside. Since joining the league last year he has been a designated player that fits Kinnear's system very well and compliments the other players on the field, especially the forwards. If the Fire are unable to close him down he will be able to provide opportunities to the Houston forwards with ease.
Even though he may be coming off the bench this week, Daniel Paladini has shown he can be a difference maker when given opportunities. Last week, starting in place of the injured Patrick Nyarko, Paladini was able to score a goal and provide 2 helpers on the 2 other fire goals. He may not be the most talented on the team, but his work ethic and energy level makes up for it in truck loads. He is slowly becoming a fan favorite and I can see him filling the role that John Thorrington did. Paladini is a feisty, energetic, and hard working player that will leave it all on the field and play for the team before anything else.
Hopefully the Fire can continue riding the momentum train as they head into Houston on Sunday. Last week they were able to put 3 goals past New York to get their first win of the season. This week will be a little harder as they play a Houston team who has not lost in their new home. If the Fire can put in a near perfect game they will have a good chance at beating the Dynamo in Houston and continuing the good start to April. If the Fire play a good game and make a few mistakes they will have a chance at walking out of Houston with a point. Dominic Kinnear will definitely have a game plan set in place to shut down and frustrate the Fire. I can see Frank's Men in Red giving it their all in Houston on Sunday and coming home with a point and continuing a good start to April.
Final score: 1-1, I'll go with Rolfe to get his first goal of the season and to make up for the penalty miss from last week.