It’s time to Dream, Scream, Believe again in Houston as the Dynamo begin what they hope will be a long playoff run tonight at Toyota Park in the Chicago area. The Dynamo come into the playoffs as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and with that will have to play this one game in the new knockout round. Because they finished as the lower seed they will have to do so on the road, a place none too kind to the Dynamo this season.
Let’s start with the road woes. The Dynamo finished the season with a road record of 3 wins, 9 losses and 5 ties. After winning the first two games of the season on the road the Dynamo won just once away from BBVA Compass Stadium, a 2-0 win at Toronto on July 28th. Since then it has been rough sledding, including a 3-1 loss in Chicago on September 2nd.
Let’s go ahead and get all the bad news out of the way at the beginning. The Dynamo have not beaten the Fire since August 21, 2010, a 4-3 thriller at Robertson Stadium that included a Brian Ching hat trick. Since then the teams have met five times with four draws, their most recent meeting being the loss back in September.
Now that we’ve covered the backstory let’s get into the actual matchup between the two teams. I said it on Twitter Saturday when the playoff seedings were set; Chicago is a bad matchup for the Dynamo. The Fire have loads of speed up front with the likes of Sherjill MacDonald, Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, and Dominic Oduro. The Dynamo back four does not do well with speed. Kofi Sarkodie and Corey Ashe have speed wide but they often get caught up field in the attack and are beat on counterattacks. If Andre Hainault starts in place of Sarkodie at right back it only makes the defense slower. Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor have played well in the center of defense since Geoff Cameron left for the English Premier League. The central pairing will be tested tonight with the Fire front line. Boswell and Taylor will have to communicate and stay on the same page to keep Tally Hall from being under fire. (No pun intended.) Hall has had a great season, setting the single season shutout record for the Dynamo and he has playoff experience with last year’s finals run.
As with most teams the midfield is the key for the Dynamo. Designated player Boniek Garcia has been a star since coming to Major League Soccer and Brad Davis is always a threat. Davis and Boniek Garcia have a combined 12 goals and 18 assists this season and the Honduran only played half the season. Davis and Boniek Garcia will have to run at the Chicago outside backs, likely Gonzalo Segares and Jail Anibaba, and beat them wide. Anibaba is the Fire player that should be attacked. If Davis and Boniek Garcia can do what they do this could be a huge advantage. Wing play has always been a key for the Dynamo and if they are to make a run in these playoffs it will be behind these two stars.
The best matchup in this game may be in the center of midfield. Ricardo Clark is rounding into form and his veteran leadership and experience is huge for this team. Adam Moffat has been up and down this season. Logan Pause and Mexican veteran Pavel Pardo will likely man the middle for Chicago. Both players are very solid and hold together the Fire team.
Up front for the Dynamo, Will Bruin leads the team in goals with eleven but has scored just once in the last eight matches. The fact that we don’t know who will start up top with Bruin should tell you all you need to know about the forward play. Brian Ching may be playing his final match in Major League Soccer but he has been relegated mostly to late game sub this season. Ching still shows flashes of brilliance but he is too similar to Bruin in his style of play and I’m not sure he can be effective over 90 minutes. Mac Kandji may remind Dynamo fans of Oduro when he was in Houston. Kandji has the raw talent but his finishing leaves a lot to be desired. Former Fire player Calen Carr brings pace up top to counter Bruin’s hold up play and runs off the ball but his turnovers and poor recent form may find him on the bench. Cam Weaver has played well in the Dynamo’s CONCACAF Champions League run but he hasn’t seen much action in league play. I look for Kandji to get the star with Bruin. The Dynamo need speed to try and break down the central defense of Chicago. German Arne Friedrich is a rock and has seen his share of big matches and possible rookie of the year Austin Berry has had a great season in Chicago. Fire keeper Sean Johnson has had his share of blunders (see Olympic qualifying) but he is a solid shot stopper.
To me this game comes down to the Dynamo defense being able to slow down the Fire attack and the Dynamo wings to get wide and set up Bruin. Set pieces are always huge for the Dynamo and a free kick or corner could well decide this match. The biggest advantage the Dynamo have in this match is on their bench. Head coach Dominic Kinnear will have his men ready. Kinnear has tons of playoff experience and knows what it takes to lead his teams on a long cup run. Toyota Park will be buzzing and the Dynamo would do well to score early and try and quiet them. After much delibertation and going back and forth on this game I’m going to say the Dynamo win on penalties after a 1-1 draw. A win would mean the Dynamo take on Sporting Kansas City in the two leg Eastern Conference Semifinals. As they say, survive and advance. It’s something Kinnear and the Dynamo know how to do and here’s hoping they get it done tonight.
(image courtesy of Anthony Yasser/Houston Dynamo)