Welcome back to the fireside - pull up a chair, and let's talk some soccer! Saturday evening will find the Fire in the Oven, which sounds like the kind of disaster that shuts the kitchen down for a couple of weeks - let's hope not, eh?
Your Hot Time writers have lobbed some questions at our Houston SBNation outpost, Dynamo Theory, and they've responded in kind, so we've got that going for us, which is nice. I've put the score and lineup predictions at the bottom, as I'm mortified by predictions. Enjoy!
HTIOT asks Dynamo Theory
1) How are the Chicago Fire viewed as an organization by the Dynamo fanbase? Any particular characteristics that stick out about the club? (via Ryan Sealock)
I think the Dynamo fanbase generally regard the Chicago Fire as a mid-level team in MLS. They aren't really a rival like Sporting KC or FC Dallas, but they are usually in the picture come playoffs consistently. I don't think the fanbase has shown any sort of fear or trepidation over seeing Chicago coming up on the schedule, but at the same time there are a few other teams the fanbase would rather go against.
2) Between New England, Chicago and Columbus, which team is the biggest threat to take Houston's 5th spot in the standings? Or are the Dynamo good enough to keep climbing the standings above the likes Philadelphia and New York? (via John Jenzeh)
Columbus, but it won't matter because the Dynamo are returning many of their key players (Brad Davis from USMNT call-up and injury, Boniek Garcia from injury, Jermaine Taylor from yellow card accumulation, Corey Ashe from USMNT call-up, etc). When the Dynamo had all of their players for a sustained series of games, they were dominant and very difficult to beat (at home or on the road). As a fanbase, we have been waiting patiently for the players to get back. This is not the same Dynamo team that went winless in 7 games.
3) The Houston Dynamo are practically unbeatable at home. Is there any chink in their armor that the Chicago Fire might be able to exploit? What does a club have to do to win in Houston? (via Anthony Seymour)
Like my own question to HTOT (hah, H-Tot sounds awesome), I made note of the consistency with which the Dynamo defense lapse mentally. If Chicago can take those opportunities and convert them into goals, then there is no doubt Chicago specifically could win.
If a club is going to win in Houston, they have to take the fans out of it early. Go big or go home. It is our house, and you don't come in and claim ownership unless you break us early.
4) Does the fanbase want the ownership to bring in a high profile player or are they happy with the way things are and the success that they have had over the years? (via Adam Merges)
Boy, that is a loaded question.
On the one hand, the fanbase is content with the direction the Front Office has taken. When the club made a big splash signing Luis Angel Landin back some years ago, he ended up being an epic flop (to be honest, I feel he was a bigger flop than Rafa Marquez).
On the other hand, the fanbase still believes there is something more to be done to overtake LA Galaxy for that coveted MLS Cup. I actually engaged Chris Canetti via Twitter about this recently.
He told me the club feels they have assembled a solid, Championship-caliber roster, but they are always looking to improve through signings or otherwise. I don't think they are settled, but it will take something substantial to force the Front Office into a move at this point.
5) How good has Andrew Driver been for your team? Do you think the Dynamo would try to get Driver for the long term after his loan is complete? (via Mark O'Rourke)
Our second Scotsman has been magnificent. He has pace, he has talent. He is explosive along the flank, and is fairly accurate with his crosses. He causes flank defenders fits constantly, unafraid to challenge them with his dribbling. He has no problem cutting inside or going forward outside.
In short, Driver allows the formation to be fluid. We may trot out a 4-4-2 initially, but we rarely stick to it. We had some of that fluidity last year with Calen Carr up top, but Andy brings a whole new level of it by allowing some room for Davis by either pulling defenders or freeing up room inside.
To answer part 2 of that question, yes.
Dynamo Theory asks HTIOT
1) While early in the season the Fire struggled mightily, the absolute coup of acquiring Mike Magee from the hated LA Galaxy has helped turn the season around. Do you feel Magee might be enough to put the Fire into the playoffs, or are they still a player or two away?
The feeling around the Fire is that they are definitely a player or two away from being a contender. The roster, as constituted, is likely good enough to contend for, and possibly win, a playoff spot, but serious deficiencies remain. Specifically, the back line is one injury or suspension from disaster - the primary backup in the center is Jalil Anibaba, who starts at right back. We have trialed former Fire man Yamith Cuesta but seem to be stalling signing him. The front office has addressed these problems by signing a third target striker. It's bizarre. But, yes, this roster could make the playoffs.
2) Speaking of being a player away - word travels fast these days, and the new Chicago Striker Designated Player is no exception. Even though I don't think we should expect to see him start (or if he does to contribute a whole lot already), what do the Fire fans think of him and what should the league expect to see from him?
I think Fire fans are, at this point, extremely cautious with their expectations for foreign signings. We have signed and moved on more players in the last two years than the Dynamo have burned through in five. That said, Juan Luis Anangono is absolutely the kind of player everyone's looking for - just entering his prime, on the edge of his national team, hungry to move up. I am encouraged by the positive opinion Alfredo Cuvi expressed about him - Cuvi's seen Anangono play in Ecuador, and thinks the acquisition a good one. I defer to Mr. Cuvi and am optimistic.
As to what you will see from him, he's very much a modern #9, Drogba-lite. Strong, mobile, good in the air, finishes simply. I think we will see a tactical shift based around Arangono as the point of the spear in a few weeks, once he's bedded in with the squad. For now, if we get his ITC, you're looking at maybe a 15-minute sub appearance against the Dynamo - he's not in game shape yet.
3) The Dynamo have struggled offensively at times, and have had a few mental lapses defensively every game. Who should the Dynamo worry about capitalizing on those mistakes most?
Funny you should ask that - I wrote a piece this week about the Fire's tactical changes to accomodate the tiny striking pair of Rolfe and Magee. In it, I conclude that their success is largely down to the difficult mental challenges they pose defenders when working together. Both are on form. If your defense has a tough day mentally, Magee and Rolfe will make it miserable - they'll pull the defense apart and finish the simple chances that result. That said, if your centerbacks communicate well and don't switch off, it makes things much harder for Chicago.
Lineups and predictions
HTIOT: Chicago should run out an almost unchanged side from DC. Dilly Duka is likely out, but Patty Nyarko's gotten over his strep throat, so that's a straight swap there. Paolo Tornaghi continues to deputize for Sean Johnson, who's still with the Gold Cup squad. We could see Danny Paladini or Logan Pause in central midfield, but Alex has played well in the box-to-box role, so I'm guessing he starts again.
Starting XI - Paolo Tornaghi; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba; Joel Lindpere, Alex, Jeff Larentowicz, Patrick Nyarko; Chris Rolfe, Mike Magee.
Prediction: 2-2 draw. Houston is tough in the Oven, but Magee and Rolfe are hard to shut down.
Dynamo Theory: Will Bruin is still with the US Men's National Team for the Gold Cup, even though he has yet to see the pitch in a game. Corey Ashe is back from the USMNT, and Kofi Sarkodie is healthy. Brad Davis practiced with the team already this week, as did Omar Cummings. Unfortunately, I still think Coach Dominic Kinnear will opt to start Weaver over Cummings, and we will miss his pace terribly.
Starting XI - Tally Hall; Corey Ashe, Jermaine Taylor, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Sarkodie; Brad Davis, Adam Moffat, Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia; Giles Barnes, Cam Weaver
Prediction: Dynamo 2, Chicago 0