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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: Chicago travel to Houston with hopes on the line

Houston Dynamo vs. Chicago Fire image

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images/MLSsoccer.com

ROBERTSON STADIUM, Houston, Texas
(WEEK 29; MLS Game 278)

October 1, 2011
4 p.m. ET (Telefutura; KHOU)

Two of the hotter teams in Major League Soccer meet at Robertson Stadium on Saturday afternoon when the Houston Dynamo take on the Chicago Fire. The Dynamo have moved to the top of the Eastern Conference in recent weeks, coming off a huge 1-0 victory at FC Dallas last weekend. The Fire won for the fifth time in six games at midweek, a stunning 3-0 win at Real Salt Lake that keeps them firmly in the playoff hunt.

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REFEREE: Edvin Jurisevic. SAR (bench): Corey Parker; JAR (opposite): Steven Taylor; 4th: Armando Villarreal
MLS Career: 38 games; FC/gm: 21.9; Y/gm: 3.9; R: 4; pens: 5

INJURY REPORT:
HOUSTON DYNAMO-OUT: MF Alex Dixon (L finger fracture); QUESTIONABLE: MF Adam Moffat (concussion)

CHICAGO FIRE-OUT: MF Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL reconstruction); DF Steven Kinney (lower abdominal strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sebastian Grazzini (R hamstring strain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES:
none

SUSPENDED:
none

WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD:
HOU: Brad Davis, Adam Moffat
CHI: Diego Chaves, Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro

SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS:
HOU: Bobby Boswell, Danny Cruz, Hunter Freeman, Je-Vaughn Watson, Cam Weaver
CHI: Yamith Cuesta, Dan Gargan, Baggio Husidic, Josep Mikulic, Cristian Nazarit, Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (11 meetings): Dynamo 6 wins, 19 goals…Fire 3 wins, 14 goals…Ties 2
AT HOUSTON (5 meetings): Dynamo 3 wins, 9 goals…Fire 2 wins, 8 goals…Ties 0

  • In their first meeting this season April 23 at Toyota Park, Houston’s Bobby Boswell scored in the 83rd minute, canceling out Diego Chaves’ early opener, as the teams ended in a 1-1 draw.
  • The Fire’s 2-0 win last April 24 at Toyota Park was their first against the Dynamo since the 2007 campaign. The Dynamo had won five games in a row vs. Chicago.
  • The Dynamo have won the last three meetings between the teams at Robertson Stadium.
  • Coaches record: Dominic Kinnear v CHI: P16 W7 L5 D4 à Frank Klopas vs. HOU: first game

LAST MEETING (MLS)

  • 4/23: CHI 1, HOU 1 (Chaves 18-Boswell 83)
  • The Fire took the lead with an opportunistic goal in the 18th minute. Marco Pappa's dribbling run was finally stopped just outside the box, but Diego Chaves beat Houston defender Corey Ashe to the loose ball, turning and sprinting into the right side of the area before blasting a 10-yard shot into the top left corner.
  • But the Dynamo were able to snatch the equalizer seven minutes from the end. Center back Bobby Boswell rose above Fire defender Yamith Cuesta to head home a Brad Davis corner kick to extend Houston’s unbeaten streak and Chicago’s winless streak.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-1-4-1): Jon Conway-Jalil Anibaba (Dasan Robinson 76), Josip Mikulic, Yamith Cuesta, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause - Marco Pappa, Diego Chaves, Baggio Husidic (Michael Videira 65), Patrick Nyarko - Dominic Oduro (Gaston Puerari 82)
  • HOUSTON DYNAMO (4-4-2): Tally Hall - Hunter Freeman (Je-Vaughn Watson 78), Bobby Boswell, Andre Hainault, Corey Ashe - Danny Cruz (Colin Clark 67), Lovel Palmer, Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis - Cam Weaver, Will Bruin (Jason Garey 88).

HOUSTON DYNAMO

The Houston Dynamo extended their unbeaten streak to three games and won for the first time this season away from home, a 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Saturday afternoon at Pizza Hut Park. The Dynamo have 42 points from 31 games on the season, taking over the top spot in the Eastern Conference to start the week.

LAST MATCH

  • The only goal of the game came three minutes from full time. Brad Davis flighted in a corner kick from the left and Geoff Cameron steamed in to power home a header and give the Dynamo the full points.
  • Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear made two changes to the team that came back for a 2-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes at Robertson Stadium. Danny Cruz came back into the midfield for Colin Clark, and Brian Ching started up top for Carlo Costly.
  • HOUSTON DYNAMO (4-1-4-1): Tally Hall - Andre Hainault, Geoff Cameron, Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe - Adam Moffat - Danny Cruz (Je-Vaughn Watson 58), Luiz Camargo, Brad Davis - Calen Carr (Colin Clark 64) - Brian Ching (Carlo Costly 78).

TEAM NEWS

  • The win was the first away from home all season for the Dynamo. That leaves only Vancouver Whitecaps FC without a road victory in MLS this year.
  • “We know and people keep talking about it,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “[I am] happy for the guys. They are sick and tired that we haven't won on the road. “We’ve played some games on the road where we've completely dominated and come away with one point or nothing. To come away with three is a great feeling to have in the locker room."
  • For the 10th time this season, and the sixth time in the last nine games, the Dynamo scored a goal in the 79th minute or later to get a result.
  • “[The late] success just means we’re playing until the last whistle,” striker Brian Ching. “It shows the mentality of our team and the fact that we’re coming out and seeing games through.”
  • The Dynamo have scored 14 goals in the final 15 minutes of games, leading MLS by one ahead of Seattle Sounders FC.
  • “It’s not just a confidence of, ‘Oh we’re going to score late here,’ but it’s a mentality to keep going and keep pushing to have that ability to score,” midfielder Brad Davis said. “To win a championship, you have to have that and play until the final whistle, and that’s what we try to do.”
  • Although he’s moved to central defense in recent weeks, Geoff Cameron scored his fifth goal of the season, tying him for the Houston club lead with Brian Ching.
  • “I think we’re dangerous on set pieces, and we have a lot of guys who can be dangerous with Brad [Davis] serving the ball in,” Kinnear said. “Bobby [Boswell] has four and Geoff [Cameron] has five, some of which are from set pieces, so you have that. Then in the run of play, we get our wide guys involved and get service into the box. When we do that, we’re a dangerous team.”
  • Davis moved into a tie atop the MLS assist standings with his 14th of the campaign, equal for the league lead with the LA Galaxy’s David Beckham.
  • “On this team, it’s not about one guy, it’s about all the plays that everyone’s making over the course of 90 minutes,” Davis said. “We have a bunch of different guys stepping up in different ways, and that helps spread things around.”
  • The shutout was the first for the Dynamo since July 9, a span of 12 games, and the fifth of the season for the club.
  • “Anytime you get a shutout, it puts you in a good position to win a game,” Kinnear said. “We got a little bit of luck at times, and they had a few near-misses, but we just kept our heads down and held on, and it worked out, and we scored a goal late.”
  • After Sporting Kansas City’s midweek win against Columbus, the Dynamo find themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference, two points back. All three teams at the top including third-place Columbus, with 41 points have three games remaining; fourth-place Philadelphia (with 40 points before their Thursday game vs. D.C. United), will have three games remaining beginning this weekend.
  • “We've got three games left now, two home and one away, so maybe [the Dallas win] will start some momentum for the rest of the season and into the playoffs,” Cameron said. “That's our main goal: to finish off the season strong, get into the playoffs, and make a run for it."

CHICAGO FIRE

The Chicago Fire extended their winning streak in impressive fashion, rolling to a dominant 3-0 win against a 10-man Real Salt Lake on Wednesday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Fire have 36 points from 30 matches on the year, sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • Chicago opened the scoring in the ninth minute. Patrick Nyarko and Daniel Paladini combined on the left side of the penalty area before the ball went to Pappa in the heart of the area for a shot that beat RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
  • Two minutes later, the home side when down a man when Kyle Beckerman appeared to head-butt Paladini, who had given him a nudge from behind just moments prior, and Beckerman was sent off by referee Baldomero Toledo.
  • The Fire took advantage in the 39th minute. After slipping through an attempted tackle in the area, Pappa was able to pick out his target on the left side of the goal and scored his second on the night.
  • The Fire and Pappa completed their night in the 75th minute from the right wing. The Guatemalan international got free on the right flank and cut into the area, lifting an angled shot past Rimando inside the far post to complete his hat trick.
  • Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas made two changes to the team that claimed a 3-2 win over the New England Revolution at Toyota Park. Cory Gibbs came into central defense for Jalil Anibaba, and Daniel Paladini replaced the injured Sebastian Grazzini in midfield.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-4-2): Sean Johnson - Dan Gargan (Michael Videira 78), Josip Mikulic (Jalil Anibaba 70), Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, Daniel Paladini, Marco Pappa - Patrick Nyarko (Corben Bone 81), Dominic Oduro.

TEAM NEWS

  • The win continued a remarkable late-season run of form for the Fire. It’s their first three-game winning streak in league play since May 16-28, 2009, and they’ve won five of their last six after winning just twice in the first 24 league games of the season.
  • The Fire also won for just the second time this season on the road, the first since a 2-1 win at Columbus on June 12.
  • “It was a great win against a very good team in a very difficult place. They don’t drop a lot of games at home. I was very happy with the performance of the guys, not just that we won, but tactically as well,” said Fire coach head coach Frank Klopas.
  • With the three consecutive victories, the Fire now find themselves just three points behind the New York Red Bulls for 10th place overall and the final wild card spot, with four games left to play.
  • “We’re talking in the locker with our teammates that each game is a playoff for us right now. We’re still alive and we need to get points, and we know the next game is going to be hard in Houston,” said Marco Pappa.
  • Pappa scored his first career MLS hat trick and just his second game with multiple goals since coming to the league midway through the 2008 season, also scoring two goals vs. Colorado on June 9, 2010.
  • “When we started, (Pappa) was playing as a left midfielder, then we switched formations and played more of a 4-2-3-1 and he was in front of Pavel (Pardo) and (Daniel) Paladini. With Dominic (Oduro) I kept telling him to think in terms of depth when we had the ball, so he was able to constantly sprint at the depth and create some gaps in between their midfield and their back line, where I thought that Marco would find the space and get the ball,” said Klopas. “He has the ability one-on-one to beat players, but his finishing was clinical tonight.”
  • The Fire have now scored three goals in each of their last three games, after scoring their season-high three once in the first 27 league contests that coming in Week 2, a 3-2 win against Sporting Kansas City on March 26.
  • “This is a team, and when you have a good player it’s good for the player to play well like Marco (Pappa), and sometimes they decide the match,” said Klopas. “Sometimes it’s Marco, sometimes (Sebastian) Grazzini, sometimes Dominic (Oduro), so now I think we’re playing better and better, which is good for the team.”
  • With the U.S. Open Cup final ahead on Tuesday night at Seattle, Klopas indicated there could be significant changes in his team for the trip to Houston.
  • “You have to. Wednesday is a game where I think that most of the guys that played [against New England], unless there are more injuries, can play ... but I think the Houston game on Saturday is going to be very difficult,” Klopas said. “[It’s impossible] for guys to play on Wednesday, play on Saturday for 90 minutes in the heat and then recover in time for Tuesday. We’re going to have to make changes.”
  • Sebastian Grazzini missed the RSL game with a hamstring strain, and the club will await results of an MRI examination to see if he can play in the Houston game, or wait for the Open Cup final.