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.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
The Premier League’s big boys each play once more in the USA before heading back to England for the start of the new season.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT
Afellay makes four ex-Blaugranas on the books at Stoke, where Mark Hughes is aiming for European qualification.
Jul 27, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
As Bayern chase their fourth straight Bundesliga title (it would be a first), Mats Hummels says the league’s other teams need to stop fearing them.
Jul 27, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Drogba has arrived in MLS, and he even got to choose which team he’ll play for — kinda.
Jul 27, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Cyle Larin bagged his first pro hat trick on Sunday, somehow outshining David Villa at Yankee Stadium.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Villa, Giovinco, Finlay and more — this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
The first of three newly promoted sides, do the Cherries have what it takes to stay in the Premier League?
Jul 27, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT
JPW dissects the top deals, discusses which clubs have done the best business and which need to get a shift on.
Jul 27, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT
Plenty of preseason action continues out in the Far East.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Can Sherwood rejuvenate Villa and show progress is being made? Losing Benteke and Delph will hurt his chances of doing that.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:02 PM EDT
Here are the latest rumors from around the soccer world.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:06 AM EDT
SWP and BWP in MLS for RBNY.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:20 AM EDT
El Tri boss could be in a lot of trouble if these reports are true.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT
LVG isn’t afraid of telling it like it is. Not at all.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Can the Gunners improve on their third-place finish from last season?
Jul 27, 2015, 8:03 AM EDT
Red Devils sign another goalkeeper as the David de Gea saga rumbles on.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
It’s been an ugly tournament for El Tri, but they showed up ready to play in the finals.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
Arsenal won its second preseason trophy, while Romelu Lukaku logged a hat-trick for the Toffees.
Jul 26, 2015, 8:26 PM EDT
The French youth international impressed in the friendly against Wolfsburg, and Arsene Wenger wants him to stick around the Gunneres’ system.
Jul 26, 2015, 7:29 PM EDT
Banged up Mexico takes on rigid Jamaica in a scintillating Gold Cup final matchup.
- Monday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: PSG’s $133 million Ronaldo bid, Stones to Chelsea 1
- Amid reports of journalist brawl, Mexico boss Miguel Herrera looks ahead to USMNT showdown 6
- Manchester United lack creativity to challenge top clubs, says Louis van Gaal 6
- Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Arsenal 9
- Mexico 3-1 Jamaica: El Tri overpowers Cinderella story to win Gold Cup 30
- Frank Lampard ruled out of MLS All-Star game 2