MLS Wildcard Playoffs - Chicago Fire 1-2 Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo invaded Toyota Park and left with an impressive road win. Houston advances to face Sporting KC after Will Bruin’s brace.
Dominic Kinnear elected to field a 4-4-2 on the road. Will Bruin and Calen Carr started up front with Brad Davis wide left and Boniek Garcia on the right. Especially in the first half, Davis stayed wide to swing in crosses while Boniek was free to drift inside to try and find space between the Fire’s lines. In the center, Adam Moffat played as a holding player which allowed Ricardo Clark to play a battling role in the center. Clark was instructed to play higher up the pitch to try and pressure Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo and make the Fire’s attempts to build attacks more difficult. Defensively, Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie were the fullbacks. They saw a lot of the ball, but were cautious going forward not wanting to leave the center backs (Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor) exposed.
Frank Klopas went with a 4-2-3-1. Sherjill MacDonald was the lone striker up front with Chris Rolfe the number ten behind him. On the right was Alvaro Fernandez and Patrick Nyarko played on the left. The two holding players were Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo. In defense, Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry and Gonzalo Segares played from right to left. The tactics from Klopas were not overly profound, but built around the creative skill of Rolfe, Nyarko and Fernandez. Unfortunately for Chicago, these three players struggled to consistently trouble the Houston back four.
Houston Set Pieces
The visitors have been renowned for producing on set pieces; Brad Davis has 27 set piece assists since 2009. Even before the opening goal in the 12thminute, Sean Johnson had some troubles dealing with crosses. Houston won a corner and Davis’ curled left footed ball into the near post was met by Will Bruin and went in off of a slight Anibaba deflection. Anibaba was the man responsible for marking Bruin but he slipped tracking the big forward.
Key Midfield Battle
With an early lead, Houston turned to a defensive approach while Chicago had to push numbers forward to equalize. While only having two central midfielders, Houston got the better of the play in the center. The key role was Ricardo Clark playing almost a rover type central role. He had the freedom to venture up the pitch and from side to side. His goal was to win the ball back and make life difficult for Pause and Pardo. He finished the match with five ball recoveries, five clearances and two interceptions.
This role of Clark negated the impact of Chris Rolfe on the game. The Fire turned to Nyarko and Fernandez out wide to create but were unable to link up with Rolfe in the center. Rolfe has had a standout season, but on the night, he was quieted. When he was able to receive the ball, Houston forced him to play the ball wide instead of towards the goal, as seen in the graphic below. Furthermore, the Dynamo played a high line in the first half and MacDonald was frequently caught offside.
Chicago Chasing the Game in the Second Half
Down a goal at the break and struggling to threaten the goal, Klopas brought off Pause and brought on Alex. The shift resulted in a 4-1-4-1. However, the team talk went out the window when Will Bruin doubled the lead one minute after the break. Clark won the ball off of Segares, which fell to Calen Carr who set up Bruin through on goal to finish far post. The center backs Berry and Friedrich were spread out wide and unable to recover from the poor giveaway.
Now down two goals, Klopas brought on Oduro for Pardo, moving to a 4-4-2. Oduro and Alex brought life to the match, but were unable to threaten goal until ten minutes to go when Alex pulled a goal back.
How Far Can Houston Go?
The Dynamo will be a tough opponent for Sporting KC. The number one seed from the east has had a great season defensively but has struggled to break down defensive teams. Houston will be comfortable in playing a defensive system in the away tie in the second match, so Kansas City will have to earn a good result on the road.
The key player for Houston will be Boniek Garcia. He will have to step his game up for Houston to win. They need him to take players on and dribble past them. A dynamic counter attack will at times be open for the Dynamo if Sporting are chasing a match. At times, Espinoza will drift too far forward opening up a huge space in the center. Boniek has the speed and the technical ability to exploit this space if his Honduran compatriot has a lapse in concentration. A third method of attack, through Boniek, will add another dimension for Kansas City to defend.
Finally, Houston is a dangerous team on set pieces, which can bode well in any two legged tie. Sporting will have to be wary about giving away free kicks in their defensive half and unnecessary corner kicks. A slight edge should go to Kansas City for their solid regular season, but Houston has key traits in teams that can win knockout rounds so the tie should be tightly contested.