Here are a couple of things to look out for in today's game. Be sure to check out the pre-game show at 5:30 PM on Comcast SportsNet. Ours and your in-game comments are after the break.
Jalil Anibaba and Arne Friedrich Pairing
The bad news is that Cory Gibbs is out 4-6 months as he recovers from knee surgery. The good news is that the team won't be distracted by questions of which center back tandem is going to start. Arne Friedrich and Jalil Anibaba are primed to be the number one center back combination all year long. That's comforting news for a Fire team that used 8 different center back combinations in 2011.
I'm not worried about Friedrich getting on the same page as Anibaba. Friedrich is a world class international. Anibaba displayed his versatility last year where one six-game span saw him work with Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs three games in a row, move over to RB, and then work with Josip Mikulic. The team went 4-1-1.
Paolo Tornaghi vs. Sean Johnson
The one wrinkle in the Anibaba-Friedrich partnership is who the goalkeeper behind them will be. Tornaghi and Anibaba have been working together so far. Throwing Friedrich and Sean Johnson into the mix at the same time might be too much of a change. Then again, Anibaba knows Johnson better than Tornaghi and Friedrich is completely new. The first U.S. Open Cup game is probably too far off for Johnson to make his annual 'start the USOC game and take over the starting job from there' rotation. Look for Johnson to start.
Other Methods of Scoring
Dominic Oduro scored in both of Chicago's first two games but he couldn't find the net against Colorado. His teammates continue to come up empty. It seems so distant but this team that is 8-3-4 in their last 15 games is a well-rounded scoring team. Look for one of the following to happen:
Sebastian Grazzini or Marco Pappa send in a curling shot from the run of play.
Pavel Pardo connects with a defender on a set piece
Gonzalo Segares creates an assist from the wing
Federico Puppo (playing the role of Diego Chaves) poaches a rebound
Patrick Nyarko, Pardo, or Grazzini create space for a player with sophisticated passing
All of those options happened at least 3 times or more last season. None of them work well if the game plan consists of lobbing long balls to Oduro all game long (the bland strategy in Colorado). There needs to be variety in the Fire attack. This team has the tools. It is Klopas' job to maintain order and deploy the right tactics in order for these tools to come out.
Weakened Houston Midfield
Houston's midfield started disappearing as first Colin Clark was suspended, then Adam Moffat, and finally Brad Davis pulled up with an injury. Clark, Moffat and Davis represent 3/4ths of the Dynamo's starting midfield but the real loss is Davis. The St. Charles, Missouri native led MLS last year with 16 assists. It is his kicks on set pieces that turn central defenders Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron into scoring threats (Boswell - 83rd minute - 4/23/11 - Toyota Park). Davis-to-centerback is such a part of Houston's game plan that Boswell and Cameron tied for the team lead in goals scored in 2011 with 5. Chicago must mark them on set pieces but their service shouldn't be as dangerous.
This is a game that the Fire should win. Houston has a decimated midfield. This is their fourth game on the road. The Dynamo are missing their best player. I'm predicting a Chicago Fire 2 - Houston Dynamo 0 final scoreline.