No one has to remind the Houston Dynamo how dangerous the Chicago Fire can be on the counter. The club learned that lesson the hard way nearly two months ago.
Chicago delivered a clinic in a 3-1 win at Toyota Park on September 2. It was a loss that saw Houston undone early and late by giveaways in their own half to a speedy Chicago squad more than willing to capitalize on any mistake.
Preparing to travel back to Chicago for Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Knockout Round game (8 pm CT; ESPN2, TSN2, RDS2; LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), the Dynamo are intent on making that lopsided loss a case of lesson learned.
“Those were big mistakes, but sometimes you’ve got to make one big mistake to prevent other bad ones,” goalkeeper Tally Hall told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s training. “You become smarter after each game and we had a poor game where we gave them the game early and then tried to come back.
“They’re not a team that’s just waiting to win the ball and kick it forward, they’re smart with how they counterattack and smart with how they play,” Hall continued. “Everything’s pretty calculated for them. We’ve got to be smart and keep numbers up and keep them in front of us.”
Since that loss the Dynamo have gone through changes, both in personnel and tactics. Head coach Dominic Kinnear has reverted from the 4-3-3 back to his preferred 4-4-2 and Kofi Sarkodie has taken over the right back spot in the place of Canadian international Andre Hainault.
But the changes are just part of the equation if Houston is to avoid their old mistakes.
“If you watch Chicago, they do break well,” Kinnear said in a conference call Tuesday. “The ball is going to turnover, but where you turn over and your reaction to it is going to be very important.”
According to Hall those reactions will have to come from more than just yelling instructions in a hostile road environment.
“You’ve got to rely on the relationship you’ve built,” he offered, “If you’re relying solely on communication you’re gonna be in trouble. So it’s just pattern play and smart players getting in smart positions and guys seeing the game.”
If Houston can stick to that plan they stand a good chance of avoiding the same fate they did two months ago. If not, they will have an offseason to think about it.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.