It’s Rivalry Week in MLS, feel the excitement! The weekend includes this year’s first Hudson River Derby, the California Clásico and the Portland-Vancouver side of the Cascadia Cup.
And coming to Chicago this afternoon: the Irrelevancy Cup!
While not geographical, historical or any real rival outside of the claim for third largest US city, the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo are fighting to reestablish themselves after slow starts that has both teams at the bottom of their respective conferences. With a combined 15 points, the two sides play at Toyota Park in what should be a fun match pitting desperate teams looking to do anything to get themselves back into the playoff picture. The match begins at 4 p.m. and airs on CSN+.
Home Sweet Home?
Enough digital ink has been spilled over the Fire’s streak of 30 straight winless matches on the road. Thankfully, the Fire return to Bridgeview today so you’re spared from that narrative for another week. While far from the ‘fortress’ that head Coach Veljko Paunović wants to make it, Toyota Park has been a place where the Fire can at least play a bit more comfortably and be competitive. Their overall home record is 1-2-2, but they’ve scored six of their eight goals on the season in their humble abode. Thankfully, the Fire are playing a Dynamo side that’s nearly as bad as them on the road, as the Dynamo are still looking for their first road win since last July - a span of 14 matches over all competition.
Help Me David Accam, You’re My Only Hope... Oh Wait, You're Suspended?
Remember how good it felt to watch David Accam return during the road trip and to see him cause fits for the New England and New York defenders with his blazing speed? Man, good times. Sadly, those will have to remain memories for the time being, as Accam will miss Saturday’s match with a one-match suspension after elbowing the Red Bulls' Connor Lade in the face during Wednesday's match. It’s a huge blow to a team that has been asking serious questions about where it’s going to develop offense. Thankfully, Chicago will be facing a shaky Houston defense, but whether they’ll be able to take advantage of the opponent’s weakness will be answered in a bit.
All I Ask for is 90 Minutes, Is That Too Much To Ask?
The Chicago Fire did their best reenactment of a Jekyll and Hyde production during their road trip. Aside from the loss in New England (Which shall never be mentioned again), the Fire played 90 great minutes in their other two matches. Sadly for the Fire, those were split up between the second half at Vancouver and the first half against New York. The other 90 minutes saw a return to poor passing, meandering midfield possession and a shockingly small sample of quality shots. If the team can combine those halves, they’d probably be looking at a more than 7 points.
One does not end up with only 11 points in 11 matches by playing pretty, consistent football. Watching the past few Dynamo matches is a bit like watching the US Men’s national team: tons of punt-and-pray that hopes big forwards Giles Barnes and Will Clark can physically overmatch the defense and make some magic happen. The Dynamo’s plan seems to be to out-scrappy their opposition, to use athleticism, pure determination and a little bit of ball luck to compensate for a lack of pure talent.
The style of play can come off as a bit of feast-or-famine, as for every 3-3 draw or 5-0 wins, the Dynamo have a 3-1 or 4-1 loss to show for it. The style does not change on the road either, and it’s part of the the reason why the Dynamo have given up 11 goals in five away matches this season. The defense has not shown itself capable of handling real speed so far this season, which should have players like Kennedy Igboananike licking their lips at the opportunity to rush after them. It’s also at this point we can only sigh and wonder what Accam could have done today. As our own Trevor Moore was told by our friends over at Dynamo Theory, the Dynamo may return to their high-press style to flummox the Fire and generate more of an attack from the midfield.
The thing to keep an eye on Houston is to see just how they perform on the road. Like Chicago, their road trips generally leave fans with a mixed feeling of anger and sadness similar to your adorable dog you love that cannot help but take a dump right on the new carpet in front of the door. They’ve played some decent road matches, such as one in March that required two late goals from the Red Bulls to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
Betting Line and Predictions:
Betbrain.com has the probabilities as follows: A 45 percent change for a Chicago Fire win, Houston Dynamo with a 28 percent chance of a win, and a 27 percent chance for a draw.
Neither team could really ask for a better opponent to face today. For the Fire, it’s a chance to redeem themselves after a fruitless road trip by hosting the worst team in the Western Conference. For the Dynamo, it’s a chance to break their road winless streak against the worst team in MLS. Saturday could be especially tough for Chicago, coming off a cross-country road trip and playing their fourth match in eleven days. By comparison, the Dynamo have not played since last Saturday and have not had to travel far this month.
Like I said in the last preview, it’s tough to pick a team that has not shown an ability to win on the road. That still applies, only this time it refers to the Dynamo going nearly a calendar year since their last road win. Because of that, I’m picking the Fire to get back on track with a 1-0 win.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below!