[PREVIEW] Juan Carlos Osorio, presented just a few days ago as the Fire's new head coach, admits that he needs some time to get back up to speed on MLS and its teams. Since no MLS opponent has been able to defeat the Dynamo in its last eight games, perhaps a fresh approach will help. And since the Fire is 1-9-1 since it beat Houston, 1-0, April 29, maybe the less he knows about his own team, the better.
CHICAGO (4-7-4) vs. HOUSTON (9-5-2)
Thursday, 9 pm ET, ESPN2
The former conditioning coach of the MetroStars and ex-Manchester City assistant coach has spent the last 18 months with Millonarios in his native Colombia. His Chicago predecessor, Dave Sarachan, was fired June 20 despite missing several players to international duty and injuries.
Still injured is forward Chris Rolfe, who scored that goal against the Dynamo, and defender C.J. Brown is suspended, but those are the only absences for this visit of the defending champion.
During his brief stint as interim head coach, Denis Hamlett moved midfielder Diego Gutierrez into the back line and used youngsters Bruno Menezes and Floyd Franks to try and halt the team's slide.
Osorio hasn't had much time to tinker and Houston is flying high, so whatever inspiration and energy his players can draw from the home crowd can only help.
Chicago is a mediocre 3-2-3 at home and has scored just eight goals. Yet Justin Mapp has sparked the team since returning from U.S. duty and might find room to roam as the match wears on; Houston is playing its fourth game in the last 13 days and tomorrow travels back home to host Toronto Sunday.
In its last five games, Houston has outscored its opponents, 10-0, with goals by six different players. At 515 minutes, its shutout streak is the third longest in MLS history.
Stuart Holden has stepped into the left midfield role vacated by a knee injury suffered by Brad Davis, and led a 4-0 demolition of the New York Red Bulls last Thursday with a searing goal and two assists. Brian Ching scored his second goal in as many games, redirecting a shot from outside the box by Richard Mulrooney, to down D.C. United, 1-0, on Sunday.
Before he joined Millonarios, Osorio interviewed for head coaching jobs with the MetroStars and D.C. United. This surely is a case of the third time being the charm, for the Fire plays in a spiffy new stadium and is backed by one of the league's louder fan bases.
This MLS debut is no picnic, but with the arrival of Cuauhtemoc Blanco - baggage and all -- scheduled for next week, squaring off against the red-hot league champ could be the lull before the storm.
And Osorio can carefully observe counterpart Dominic Kinnear, who despite the injury to Davis and weeks without internationals Ching, Ricardo Clark, and Dwayne DeRosario, has kept his team clicking.