Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at Houston Dynamo

Arne: Will he or won't he this Sunday? (photo: goal.com)

Arne: Will he or won’t he this Sunday? (photo: goal.com)

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick brings you the Fire’s week in review and looks ahead to the throw-down in Tejas…

You must know, Houston has a home unbeaten streak. It’s quite good and has been achieved in two different places: Robertson Stadium and the Dynamo’s new home, BBVA Compass Stadium.

In 34 games, Houston is unbeaten at home across all competitions, including 28 in a row for MLS regular season games. Most recently, they’re 16-0-6 in “the Oven” at BBVA. Against the Fire, Dom Kinnear’s boys will look to set the MLS record of 35 in a row at home without a loss.

No doubt, three points is a tough ask for the Men in Red on Sunday.

The Past Week

Steve Davis wasted no time calling out Sherjill MacDonald Monday morning on NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk. Davis said MacDonald was “failing” and accused Frank Klopas of stubbornly sticking with the Dutchman.

Mackie: The Rodney Dangerfield of MLS forwards? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Mackie: The Rodney Dangerfield of MLS forwards? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Here’s the thing though: Upon further review, Mackie had a good game last Sunday. He battled with the big center back Jamison Olave, ran the channels, set up Jeff Larentowicz with a nice cross that led to a (missed) penalty kick, and worked hard.

That said, Sherjill is still sitting on zero goals and one assist in five games. Fair or not, that simply doesn’t cut the mustard for a DP forward – target, striker, or whatever. If his lack of scoring production continues, and he wants to stick around when his contract’s up (assuming Chicago still wants him), the Fire should renegotiate MacDonald’s contract at a lower salary and reclaim its DP slot. 

Maicon Santos and Daniel Paladini made Sports Illustrated’s MLS Team of the Week and NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk’s best XI for week six. Daniel also added Soccer by Ives player of the week, MLS Castrol Top 20, and EA Sports FIFA 13 Ultimate Team of the week honors to his haul. Maicon’s game winning goal was MLSsoccer.com’s “Fast & Fluid Play of the Week”

Not bad, eh?

In other accolades, Austin Berry won the bobblehead contest. Apparently, he worked really hard on his campaign. Click here for an inside peek.

Great stuff as usual from the Fire’s marketing and promotions folks. The idea was Brendan Hannan’s, but Austin’s improv skills stole the show. Perhaps Berry should moonlight at Second City…?

No Chupete for Chicago. (photo: terra.com)

No Chupete para Chicago. (photo: terra.com)

MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg reported this week that Chicago targeted CF Monterrey and Liga MX star striker Humberto Suazo in the offseason. While the Fire were unable to snag the Chilean away from los Rayados, it’s encouraging to know the front office is in the market for a bona-fide DP striker. Expect one to come this summer.

Apparently, as Anthony Zilis reported, a team meeting was held the week after the Chivas loss that players credit with turning things around for the squad, attitude wise. Perhaps a collective change of heart fueled the drive toward victory last Sunday? It’s good to know the gaffer (and perhaps GM Javier Leon, when he was in town) chewed some backsides and reminded these guys not to feel sorry for themselves. Bravo Klopas.

Finally, will Ze German return, or won’t he? The Fire sorely (pun intended) need Arne Friedrich back in the XI. Since the Die Mannschaft veteran’s arrival in 2012, Chicago is 14-3-4 with him at center back and 4-9-3 without him. Komm zurück mein Freund!

Now, let’s have a look at what they’re sayin’ down in Texas…

Dynamo Theory by Stephen Eastepp

Dear Chicago, please bring your “B” game!

Well, that’s me pleading with the masses.

Anyway, this weekend in Houston is all about the streak. The Dynamo have the opportunity to not only etch themselves into the MLS history book, but also claim one of the most impressive streaks in sports – complete home dominance.

The Dynamo haven’t lost in Houston since June 2011. That works out to 34 straight matches where an opponent hasn’t left the heat and humidity of Houston with a full three points. Pretty impressive when you think about it, and we’d (Dynamo fans) like to keep it that way.

This Sunday’s matchup will be tough though. Chicago poses a big threat to the streak, especially with the poor form the team has seen since the beginning of the season. Hailed as an Eastern Conference contender (I’m not sure if it’s injuries, coaching, or the loss of Dominic Oduro that has the Fire ill), their poor start makes the Fire all the more dangerous.

Yeah, I said the loss of Dominic Oduro. Just for fun.

In all seriousness, Houston started the season off strong, but is dying to get back on the field after an embarrassing 2-0 loss at Portland last week. After a result like that, the players, coaches, and fans will be yearning for a positive result. There’s no better place to give it a shot than in the comfort of BBVA Compass Stadium.

So, all in all, “To break the streak or not to break the streak?” is the question. On Sunday, a good opponent hungry for blood and revenge after an MLS playoff elimination in 2012 will try to play spoiler to thousands of screaming Dynamo fans’ hopes and dreams.

We in Houston are hoping that doesn’t happen, because Dynamo fans don’t remember how it feels to go home disappointed.

OTF’s compadre Stephen Eastepp is the managing editor of SB Nation’s Dynamo Theory. He also writes English-language coverage of Liga MX and is a devout Pumas supporter. Follow him @OrangeFanBlog

Sparky’s Sizzling Questions

Holla at ya dog. (photo: Scott Fenwick)

“Can I get a WOOF, WOOF?!” (photo: Scott Fenwick)

With health returning to the squad, what’s the starting XI going to look like this weekend?

For the sixth time in as many games, Chicago will likely roll out a different starting lineup. Here’s the bullet-point version of the med sheet:

  • Arne Friedrich didn’t train with the squad Friday morning. He was doing physical work inside. I’d put his chances to play at 50/50*
  • Klopas should keep Lindpere on the left, so don’t expect Dilly Duka to start, despite his availability.
  • Alex is likely a no go, as he continues to nurse the ankle he injured vs. fake Chivas.
  • Mike Videira’s back from a concussion and helmeted-up, Petr Cech-style.
  • Steven Kinney’s still dealing with a bum quad, so don’t expect him to make the trip south.
  • After missing the New York match with a quad tweak, Gonzalo Segares trained in full this week and is good to go.

*Saturday night, Friedrich announced via Twitter that he did not make the trip to Houston.

Our last patient, Patrick Nyarko, passed all the requisite fitness tests this week and trained with the squad in full since Wednesday.

“It’s good to be back with the team, Nyarko told OTF. “Training a couple days before Sunday’s game felt good. I’ve gone through all the tests and hard sessions, every session possible. I feel pretty good and ready to go.”

Patty’s odds of starting seem good. At the very least, expect him to get decent minutes off the bench.

So, if Nyarko’s able to start, and Klopas wants to employ the same tactics as he did versus New York, should Chris Rolfe be benched?

Yes. Yes he should.

If Nyarko slots into the right-wing, Daniel Paladini should play centrally, underneath either MacDonald or Santos. Think I’m nuts? Okay, perhaps the following evidence will convince you of my argument. Let’s go back in time a bit, shall we?

Rolfe: Not enough of this = grab some bench. (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Rolfe: Not enough of this = grab some bench. (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Last season, on August 12th, Logan Pause went down in Philly with broken ribs and a punctured lung. With Logan hurt, Paladini’s minutes increased, marked by a start the following week versus New England at home. For about three weeks, Daniel performed admirably in Pause’s stead. Remember that fire-cracker of a goal vs. Houston?

As you may also remember, Pause came back earlier than expected, which forced Paladini back into a reserve role. However, Daniel would soon find himself on the pitch again due to Pavel Pardo’s injury at Toronto on September 12, exactly one month after Pause went down. Paladini’s time on the field ended when Pavel returned for the regular season finale vs. DC and the playoff match vs. Houston.

NOTE: throughout the entire scenario above, Chris Rolfe started every match.

Okay, fast forward to 2013.

If you’ve been paying attention, Chris Rolfe hasn’t done much of anything in five games so far. Moreover, his missed PK vs. New York is a sign he’s feeling pressure and not handling it well. Daniel Paladini however, well, let’s just say he’s done pretty darn good each time he’s been called upon this season.

Alright now, here are the numbers. They don’t lie. Compare Paladini and Rolfe since way back when in August 2012, and you’ll notice something quite stark. Take away Rolfe’s PK goal vs. New England on 8/18/12, and what you essentially have is this: Daniel Paladini has matched Chris Rolfe’s offensive production in just over half the minutes played.

paladini vs. rolfe

*One goal was a PK vs. New England on 8/18/12

What’s more, Houston has ‘lil Chris’s number. Here’s Rolfe’s underwhelming stat line vs. Houston in 2012:

rolfe v houston last 3 games

Looks like a no-brainer to me.

If Nyarko and Friedrich can start, here’s my XI against Houston:

fire 4-2-3-1

If Arne can’t go, Jalil will play beside Austin, and Klopas might as well play Wells Thompson at right back. Up top, I prefer Maicon at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mackie in there. Frank may want him to soften Houston center back Bobby Boswell up a bit, and then bring on Maicon in the second half for (hopefully) another cool finish.

What does Patrick Nyarko expect to see from Houston’s talented midfield?

After training on Friday, Nyarko had this to say to OTF:

“We’ve played them several times and I know what Frank wants me to do, especially with Brad Davis. You really cannot ignore him. He’s dangerous. [In addition to the wingers] we must account for him. It’s a matter of playing in between the lanes and trying to disrupt him when he has the ball, and also [looking to] break out when I can to exploit space.”

“A lot will be demanded of whoever’s playing on the right side because you’ve got to pay extreme attention to Brad Davis, no doubt about it. But then, on the attacking side, you’ve got to break out and try to create chances.”

“It’s especially difficult [to prepare] for Houston because both the outside backs come forward. Especially with them playing at home, they’re going to try to push the game.”

“It’s going to be ‘cat and mouse’ down there. It’s always interesting to play them. They’re one of the model teams in the league.”  

After his brace last Sunday, what did forward Maicon Santos have to say to OTF?

On training:

“I’ve had good training sessions the past two weeks. We’re working on everything we need to work on to do our jobs. I’m going to keep doing my job and try to help the team as much as I can, on and off the field. I’m going to keep my head up and give it everything I can.”

On his reputation for going hot and cold as a striker, which may be due to past injuries:

“The past five years, everyone says I’ve been scoring in bunches. I’ve had to play through injuries. I just try to work hard to be able to get the consistency and get chances to score every possible way I can. I’m just going to keep working and do my job.”

“The point is, you never know when you’re going to get injured. That’s part of the soccer. I do my job 100%, in practice or during the game. I just focus on scoring and helping my team. Being injured is just part of the game, that’s all.”

On adjusting to his new home and club:

“I’m getting used to the city. The team’s amazing. My teammates are fantastic. Everything’s been great so far.”

What’s up with Dynamo stars Will Bruin and Boniek Garcia? Will they play on Sunday?

Stephen Eastepp reports from Houston that Bruin is looking good, practiced on Friday, and is not on listed on the injury report. Boniek, however, remains questionable and didn’t practice Friday. The Dynamo’s play-making winger is likely a game-time decision.

Chicago Fire at Houston Dynamo: Sunday, April 14th at 4:00pm cst!
Nationwide television on Unimas.
La radio en espanol: 107.9 FM La Ley en Chicago.

#FireNation

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3 thoughts on “Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at Houston Dynamo

  1. Paladini as the underneath guy is certainly unorthodox but you made an alright case for it. I just can’t see Klopas going that direction.

    I don’t mind giving Rolfe another game against Houston. He missed the penalty last week but I thought he did alright in combination with Mac. In previous games he was the source of most of the attacking chances.

    I think if Alex were healthy, Rolfe would be sitting but I think he gets another few go’s before something changes there.

  2. Pretty much the same as last week, though start some sort of rotation between Nyarko/Lindpere/Paladini as outside mids.

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