By JOSE M. ROMERO
The MLS postseason begins tonight with the Chicago Fire hosting the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park in the Eastern Conference knockout round. The higher-seeded Fire are hoping the end to their regular season isn’t a reflection of how they will fare in this one-and-done match.
The Fire won just one of their last five matches of the regular season, which coincided with leading scorer Chris Rolfe going scoreless in that stretch of games. Rolfe will be a big key in this match for the Fire, just as midfielder Brad Davis will loom large for the fifth-seeded Dynamo.
The two players organize the attack for their respective teams. Rolfe led the Fire (17-11-6) in scoring this season with eight goals and added five assists, and Davis, who has three assists in 16 career matches against the Fire, scored eight goals and added a team-high 12 assists.
The Dynamo (14-9-11) will rely heavily on Davis’ ability to feed others and take timely shots on goal, plus his veteran experience for a club that has been to the postseason in five of the past six years.
The edge in playoff experience goes to the Dynamo, the Eastern Conference champion last season. They will also be well-rested, having known their playoff seed for some time before the regular-season finale. But the Fire have scoring balance and are 16-1-3 all-time in home playoff games despite not having been in the postseason since 2009.
More information on the Fire-Dynamo match after the jump:
CHICAGO FIRE vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO
(Tonight, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
SEASON SERIES — Chicago was 1-0-2 in three regular season matches with the Dynamo.
KEY PLAYERS — Chicago: F Chris Rolfe (8 goals, 12 assists), F Dominic Oduro (6 goals, 3 assists), F-M Patrick Nyarko (4 goals, 7 assists), M Logan Pause (captain), Ds Gonzalo Segares, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry (7 combined goals), GK Sean Johnson (108 saves, 1.24 GAA). Houston: F Will Bruin (12 goals, 4 assists), M Brad Davis (8 goals, 12 assists), F Brian Ching (5 goals, 5 assists), M Boniek Garcia (4 goals, 6 assists in 17 regular-season games), D Bobby Boswell (led team in most regular-season matches played with 33), M Calen Carr (4 goals, 2 assists), F Macoumba Kandji (4 goals, 2 assists). GK Tally Hall (3-1-0 record in career playoff games).
OUTLOOK — The Dynamo have been here before and know what it takes to win postseason matches. Johnson is the keeper who seems more likely to make a mistake on a shot, and Houston has more quality options on offense. On the flip side, the weather could benefit the Fire as well as their home playoff history. But it’s a new year and the past won’t mean much in this match, plus the Fire aren’t playing consistently good soccer at a team when they should be.
PREDICTION — These are pretty evenly-matched teams overall, but give the edge to the Dynamo in experience and on the attack. Houston wins by a goal.