Skip to content

MLS playoff preview: Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire

Oct 31, 2012, 10:20 AM EST

Brad Davis 2

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

(Official league match preview is here)

(MORE: MLS playoff primer and schedule)

On Chicago:

  • 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.

(MORE: Austin Berry is PST’s pick for Rookie of the Year)

(MORE: Talking tactics and Chris Rolfe)

On Houston:

  • 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.

(MORE: Considering Houston’s playoff experience)

Bottom line:

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Hope Solo could be left off USWNT’s 2015 World Cup team, says Sunil Gulati

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:45 PM EST

    Hope Solo, USWNT Hope Solo, USWNT

    Hope Solo’s punishment for repeated alcohol-related incidents could extend much further than her initial 30-day suspension.

  2. Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata to undergo surgery on broken foot, miss start of season

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:22 PM EST

    Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake

    3-4 months on the sidelines means a massive hole to fill to start the 2015 season.

  3. Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Tunisia, DR Congo draw in group finale, advance to QF

    Jan 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EST

    Ahmed Akaichi, Tunisia Ahmed Akaichi, Tunisia

    After two more places in the knockout rounds were booked on Tuesday, half the quarterfinal matchups are set.

  4. Chile vs. USA preview: Who’s here to stay as USMNT kicks off 2015?

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:15 PM EST

    Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT

    Half the current USMNT roster was built with the Gold Cup in mind, while the other half is about next year’s Olympics. So, who’s who, then?

  5. Report: Juan Agudelo close to signing with his former MLS team, New England Revolution

    Jan 26, 2015, 4:05 PM EST

    Juan Agudelo, FC Utrecht Juan Agudelo, FC Utrecht

    After eight months without a club, Juan Agudelo is reportedly returning to the place he should have been all along: MLS.

  6. VIDEO: Legendary Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme retires

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:59 PM EST

    Juan Roman Riquelme Juan Roman Riquelme

    As the soccer world will no longer see the maverick skills of the Argentine playmaker, here’s a look at some of his best moments.

  7. FA Cup fifth-round draw: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough, Midlands derby, minnows at home

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:38 PM EST

    Here’s the draw for the last 16 of the FA Cup, as PL big boys get more tough tests.

  8. Head of Dutch FA, Michael van Praag, will challenge Blatter for FIFA presidency

    Jan 26, 2015, 1:57 PM EST

    UEFA Europa League Handover In Amsterdam Getty Images

    Van Praag announces his intentions to run against Blatter, says he has the backing of five federations.

  9. Drinks on her! Lady wins $24,000 after $3 bet predicted huge FA Cup upsets

    Jan 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Hartlepool United v Blyth Spartans - FA Cup Second Round Getty Images

    Betting on five underdogs away from home in the FA Cup will win you serious cash.

  10. Diego Fagundez says he was “tired of waiting for the U.S.” after choosing to play for Uruguay

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:32 PM EST

    FBL-U20-SOUTHAM-URU-COL FBL-U20-SOUTHAM-URU-COL

    Fagundez explains why he couldn’t wait any longer to select his national team.

  11. Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle rumored to want Wolfsburg move. Should he move on?

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Swansea City v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    If Wolfsburg can agree a fee for Schurrle, should he leave Stamford Bridge?

  12. Transfer ban for Real Madrid? Probe launched after signing of Venezuelan kids

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:20 AM EST

    Official logo of the spanish football team, Real Madrid. Official logo of the spanish football team, Real Madrid.

    The signing of two Venezuelan youngsters could put Real in plenty of trouble with FIFA, as Barcelona-esque transfer ban could be on the cards.

  13. VIDEO: South Korea beat Iraq to reach first Asian Cup final since 1998

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:34 AM EST

    FBL-ASIA2015-KOR-IRQ FBL-ASIA2015-KOR-IRQ

    The Koreans will face either Australia or the UAE in Saturday’s final in Sydney.

  14. City’s Pellegrini concerned at home form after Arsenal, Middlesbrough losses

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:33 PM EST

    Britain Soccer FA Cup AP

    “I am concerned, not because of Chelsea but because we didn’t score in our last two home games,” Pellegrini said.

  15. Eto’o passes physical at Sampdoria, move from Everton all but official

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:50 PM EST

    twitter.com/sampdoria twitter.com/sampdoria

    The 33-year-old Cameroonian striker joins a Sampdoria side currently tied for third in the table with 34 points.

  16. Rodgers: Sturridge could face Chelsea in League Cup, certain to be back for Saturday vs. West Ham

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:13 PM EST

    Liverpool FC Training Session Getty Images

    “If he’s not ready for Tuesday then he’ll be back, for sure, against West Ham next weekend,” Rodgers said.

  17. Scotland, Wigan mid joins Chicago Fire as third Designated Player

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:22 PM EST

    twitter.com/chicagofire twitter.com/chicagofire

    Maloney turned 32 on Saturday and will be unveiled by Chicago on Monday.

Featured video

Top five Premier League goals: Week 22