Oct 31, 2012, 10:20 AM EDT
There are reasons to feel good and bad about both of these teams, who launch Major League Soccer’s 17th playoff season tonight.
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Toyota Park, ESPN2
- It’s tough to feel great about a (slightly slumping?) team with just one win it its last five matches going into the playoffs. That one victory was a dandy, a very professionally managed 2-0 win over the Red Bulls outside New York. Veteran Dutch target striker Sherjill MacDonald had both goals for the Fire, who were at their counter-attacking best in that one.
- Who runs that counter attack for Frank Klopas’ team? That’s Chris Rolfe, and as he goes, so goes the Fire. Just like in his first go-round at Toyota Park a few years back, Rolfe is the very definition of a streaky attacker. When he was so confident and on top of things back in September, the Fire was 4-1 (its only loss coming to Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City).
- Past Rolfe, Klopas’ team is full of good roll payers, but a little short on difference-makers in the attack. Guys like MacDonald, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro, Alex and others have their moments, but they aren’t reliable game-changers.
- So the boys in the back will be needed to lock it down, and perhaps just a little better than they did throughout all of 2012. Rookie of the Year favorite Austin Berry is, well, a rookie, and he gets nipped on positioning here and there. Outside back Jalil Anibaba is another good, young defender – but this is just his second season. And goalkeeper Sean Johnson can turn a game either way, usually with big stops but occasionally with the real howler.
- Chicago certainly has this on its side: no one on the field Wednesday has been in more big games that German veteran center back Arne Friedrich.
- Dominic Kinnear’s team has been just a little better than dreadful away from home this year, tied with Vancouver for the fewest road wins (3) and a fairly hideous -12 goal difference.
- After an impressive early summer success the Dynamo is just 3-3-4 down the stretch. And this teetering between formations (4-4-2 and 4-3-3) shows the Dynamo still hasn’t exactly found itself. Clearly, this is not the best time to be “finding yourself.”
- On the other hand, Houston knows how to get it done on the road in the playoffs. Last year, they fought their way into MLS Cup 2011 largely on the strength of wins at Philadelphia and Kansas City. From there, they had to meet Los Angeles at the Galaxy’s Home Depot Center, and nearly pulled out another upset. Houston lost that one, 1-0, without top man Brad Davis (pictured).
- Houston fans won’t soon forget another important playoff match in Los Angeles, back in November of 2010. Kinnear’s team had Los Angeles absolutely on the ropes before a power failure – of all things, right? – served as a sort of re-set for Los Angeles, which went on to win in overtime.
- The Dynamo attack is all about Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right and Davis on the left. Will Bruin and Brian Ching, the veteran warrior who has taken on a second-half sub role this year, depend on service from the wings. And Davis, of course, is one of the league’s premier dead ball strikers.
- The Dynamo will understand that preventing Rolfe from getting the ball in good spots is critical to stopping Chicago’s attack before it gets started. That will be up to defensive midfield screener Adam Moffat or Ricardo Clark (or both, depending upon how Kinnear shapes his team for this one.)
- If there’s a gap in the back, it’s at right back, where rookie Kofi Sarkodie has shown his talent at times, but also some immaturity in some moments. Watch for Nyarko’s attempts to exploit that.
Don’t look for a lot of goals.
Even at home, Chicago doesn’t always commit tremendous numbers forward. Anibaba on the right is a little young and will likely lean toward caution in this one, generally choosing to “stay home.” Gonzalo Segares on the left is 30 now and not quite the spry presence we used to know around Bridgeview.
On the other side, Jermaine Taylor and Bobby Boswell haven’t gotten much press this year, but they remain a solid central defensive duo. Houston likes to move the ball out of the back quickly and safely, minimizing chances for back-line booboos.
So one mistake will probably decide it in a 1-0 or 2-0 contest.
FYI: It will be cool to cold and probably a little windy – about what you would expect for an Illinois night in late October.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT
The New York Cosmos completed a massive signing, beating out a few of his former clubs to nab the Spanish legend as a player and coach.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
Despite a solid confirmation from Croatia, the friendly will reportedly not be happening.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT
Manchester United came from behind twice but still must settle for a disappointing result away from home.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:35 PM EDT
19-year-old Lazio striker Keita Balde Diao somehow walked away from what looks to be a major accident. His Lamborghini, however, didn’t.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Unruly fans will cost Wales and Galatasary as UEFA continues to crack down on off-the-pitch incidents.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
The yearly tournament organizes five-a-side matches for people that are homeless or living in extreme poverty.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Liverpool, Everton and Swansea City are just a few of the Premier League clubs reportedly looking to sign the Marseille winger.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:37 PM EDT
With transfer rumors swirling, the Arsenal forward made it clear that he is #AlwaysAGunner.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Amidst the Ebola outbreak, South Africa has ruled out hosting the continent’s premier tournament should Morocco back out.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sad news out of India as a young player died after injuring his spinal cord during a celebration.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Ahmed Musa stirred the pot ahead of his club’s Champions League clash this week, calling out City’s form.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Watch the Baggies take on Manchester United today, live at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT
The Chelsea backup is teaching his replacement how to stay safe from head injuries, which have affected both keepers.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the PL during Week 8.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:43 AM EDT
In a game that saw both sides reduced to ten men, the Crystal Palace manager believes the referee could have done better.
Oct 19, 2014, 11:38 PM EDT
The Dutch midfielder scored off two ridiculous strikes to lead Galatasary over rivals Fenerbahce.
Oct 19, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Sounders came from 2-0 down to steal a draw in Los Angeles at Landon Donovan’s final regular season home game.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT
Werder Bremen became the first team without a shot in a Bundesliga game as Bayern continues to cruise.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT
The Argentinian forward is scoring goals at a blistering pace for Manchester City. Could he be the most lethal striker in Europe?
Oct 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
- Report: Croatia friendly a no-go, but USMNT still likely to play that date 0
- West Brom 2-2 Manchester United: Blind earns draw for Red Devils on road 0
- Premier League Playback: Liverpool can’t get rid of Luis Suarez hangover 0
- MUST SEE: Wesley Sneijder scores two wonder goals 2
- Where does Sergio Aguero rank with the world’s best? 0
- Michael Bradley to Jurgen Klinsmann: ‘I have thick skin’ 0