Editor’s note: This site built on top of a database that lets me do all sorts of stuff with players and clubs, but doing the back-end data entry is slooooow. Since there are about seventy players on the preseason rosters of these two MLS teams, many of whom won’t make the March cuts, I’m skipping the pregame roster construction and will build that part of the site after the match based on the players who actually log minutes. Links to the clubs’ MLS sites are provided below for fans who want to check them out. — dc
Though they never threatened to steal the spotlight in 2012, the Houston Dynamo went pole-to-pole among the best teams in Major League Soccer’s resurgent Eastern Conference, then capped the season by earning a spot in the MLS championship match. The Chicago Fire went through an up-and-down season that included some big player changes, yet finished a surprising 6th in the league’s Supporters’ Shield standings (4th in the Eastern Conference, four points above Houston). This is a rematch of the Eastern Conference knockout round game the Dynamo won 2-1 last October, and a preview of two teams who could contend for top MLS honors in 2013.
Game time: 5 p.m.
HOUSTON: After falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup game the last two seasons in a row, it’s hard to get a grip on this Dynamo squad. They play smart, physical, typically unbeautiful soccer, and Coach Dominic Kinnear clearly knows how to push their buttons. But they’re not dominant, and their 2013 roster looks an awful lot like the one from last year, minus American International Geoff Cameron, who left for Stoke City mid-season.
This is still Brad Davis’s team, but there’s been a changing of the guard up top, where rapidly improving ce
nter forward Will Bruin overtook Brian Ching as the big striker in the middle. The team got a boost when Honduran midfielder Boniek Garcia joined the campaign in June, and the veteran defense makes things tough on opposing forwards. Left back Corey Ashe is a player to watch, though his dynamic talent didn’t always equate to the results Houston fans expect from the former Tar Heel.
Goalkeeper Tally Hall‘s performance keeps him into the midst of USMNT discussions as a potential replacement for Tim Howard, along with Fire keeper Sean Johnson, DCU’s Bill Hamid, and Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan.
CHICAGO: The Fire entered 2012 with unproven young defenders and ended it with confidence in a backfield that features MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry and Jalil Anababa, both 24. Match them up with U.S. International goalkeeper Johnson, 23, and you’ve got the foundation for a team that could be solid for years. There’s veteran leadership in Arne Friedrich, too.
But this has been a particularly active off-season for the club. Gone are Pavel Pardo (retired), Fredrico Puppo and Dominic Oduro. Incoming players include respected MLS veterans Maicon Santos (F), Joel Lindpere (M) and Jeff Larentowicz (DM), plus young attacking midfielder Dilly Duka. How they’ll fit together with a team that already includes forwards Chris Rolfe and DP Sherjill MacDonald, plus speedy winger Patrick Nyarko, is anyone’s guess.