DC United gave just what the Fire ordered, and were were exactly what they have been all season long - just a plain old bad team. The Fire last weekend showed again that they can beat the bad teams in a 4-1 mauling. It was a game that should give this beleaguered attack some confidence.
Specifically, it should put a little spring in Chris Rolfe's step after he bagged a brace by finishing 2 spectacular passes by Joel Lindpere. Lindpere definitely gained some confidence by picking up 2 assists and a goal. This was the best game he has played in a Fire uniform. There were a lot of positives to be taken from last Saturday's match which the team can build on for the rest of the season.
As much fun as it is to look over the shoulder at that win, the Fire have to move on from the DC game and focus on the upcoming trip to Houston this weekend. This game is very important for the Fire as they look to climb into a playoff spot. The Dynamo currently sit in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and are only 5 points up on the Fire. This game is also an opportunity for the Fire to show that they can beat the better teams around the league, not only the also-rans.
The one thing that handicaps the Men in Red is that they have to travel to BBVA Compass Stadium, a/k/a the Oven. Since its opening, Houston has been almost invincible in their home stadium, which the Fire found out first hand earlier this season when they lost 2-1. For Houston, this is a chance to widen the gap between them and the teams that will sit out of the playoffs. A good way to start for them is to take all 3 points versus the Fire Saturday night.
Dominic Kinnear comes into this game off of a bye week in league play but only 3 days after a friendly versus Stoke City. Omar Cummings and Brad Davis are just returning from injury, with Davis seeming likelier to feature after a 24-minute sub appearance Wednesday. If Cummings cannot go, expect to see Cam Weaver up top, as Will Bruin rides pine on the USA Gold Cup team. Kinnear likes to go with a 4-4-2 with Moffat normally sitting deep as a playmaker in the middle and Ricardo Clark in a forward-roaming destroyer role. This is what I think Kinnear will go with Saturday night - the likeliest switch being Davis in for Driver in the starting XI:
Coming out of the game last weekend versus DC, the Fire only have one injury concern. Dilly Duka left the match early in the 2nd half with what looked like a groin injury, and has been left out of the gameday 18. I would look for Rolfe to take his spot with the possibility of Lindpere filling in also in order to keep Rolfe up top. My best guess for the lineup that actually might be the best chance to come away with a result is:
So this week I'm not going to go into key matchups, I'm going to just stress something since we are at probably the most crucial part of the Fire's season. Everybody on the team has to step up and be better than their opponent. Not just the players but the training staff and coaches have to step up. With only 14 games left in the season it is important to get results and the more results they get the easier it will be to make a push for the playoffs.
The next 4 weeks are either going to make the Fire's season or leave us dreaming of what could have been. To quote one of our other writers, it's all about "results, motherf#*ker" from here on out. If the Fire lose any advantage on the field and lose any battle in any of the positions on the field than a result will be out of the question.
For Houston I'm going with Brad Davis. If he is healthy enough to start the match and go a full 90 minutes can pose problems for our defense. He is very good delivering crosses from the wings but the area that he can hurt us the most is on set pieces. Let's face it, the Fire's defense gets a little lazy on set pieces, whether from throw-ins or corners or free-kicks, the Fire have been prone to lose their marks or give up the 2nd chances that the opposing teams have taken advantage of. With Davis' left foot out there every single dead ball situation could potentially turn deadly for the Fire. Plus the leadership qualities that he brings to the Dynamo on the field is unmatched by any player on their roster.
For the Fire I'm going to go with the gaffer, Frank Klopas. Last week the Fire won easily 4-1 against the worst team in the league. Frank had to do little tactically to ensure that his team walked away with 3 points as Ben Olsen basically gave us the game. If you look at the 2 games prior versus SKC and Vancouver, we were out matched in almost every facet of the game. Frank could not make the necessary tactical adjustments that were needed in order to counter the high pressure quick attacking tempo of both opposing teams. This week we probably won't see a high pressure system but Frank will have to make adjustments throughout the match in order to counter and disrupt what Houston will be trying to do. I have faith that he can do his job well it's just that he needs to be a little less stubborn and get out of his comfort zone sometimes.
With the 4-1 demolition of DC now in the past the Fire have to look ahead to a tough stretch of 6 games - not including the Open Cup semi-final - against Eastern Conference opponents in playoff spots. On Saturday night the Fire will look to get a result of any kind at BBVA Compass Stadium - this is a case where a road draw is a very good result.
I can see this game being dominated by Houston but if the Fire can keep it together and play a clean defensive game then we should see a result from the "Men in Red". I'm going to go with a 1-1 tie this week with Magee getting the goal for the Fire. I think that a win is just too much to ask, especially playing a team that is extremely hard to beat playing in their home.
It is very important that the Fire get something out of their next three games. If Chicago is still sitting in the mid-20s on points by the time they travel to New England on the 17th of August, all we have to play for is (hopefully) an Open Cup Final or, failing that, 2014.
Something a Little Extra
If anybody is interested in joining a EPL fantasy league, head over to fantasy.premierleague.com and sign up. Section 8 has 2 leagues for those interested. The codes to get in are: 106595-31326 and 106595-36795. By the way it is free.