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Friday, April 22, 2011
Floundering Fire confront Dynamo

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's current three-game losing streak is creeping into the realm of historic proportions if the team cannot turn things around Saturday when it hosts the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park.

One more loss would put this stretch among only a handful of four-game Fire droughts, the most recent being a four-game skid in May of 2007.

"The mentality's always strong, but the confidence, we've lost a little bit of," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said Friday following training.

The Fire (1-3-1, four points) have had to rely on some of their younger personnel to shoulder the load this season. Second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson and 2011 first-round draft pick and defender Jalil Anibaba thrust themselves into starting roles. But both have been prone to some big mistakes in recent matches.

De los Cobos decided before last week's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy to turn to 33-year-old goalkeeper Jon Conway, who will return to the starting lineup Saturday against Houston. De los Cobos said that Anibaba continues to maintain his starting right back role.

"I think patience is the key, for everybody," 12-year veteran Conway said. "A lot's expected of these young guys, but they are young guys. You've got to realize that being thrown into this sort of environment, this quick and as tough as it may be, sometimes it takes a little bit longer. For me, all I do is show up and train like I have for my whole career and just train hard, and maybe that translates over to them and they can take that from me. I have had a long run of things, fortunately, and maybe that helps them out with getting over what they have to get over."

The mentality within the Fire camp is that in most games this season, the team could have turned around its fate with more consistent play and eliminate some lapses on both ends of the pitch. In Chicago's losses to L.A. and Seattle Sounders FC, the Fire certainly had their moments to change the tone of both games and potentially garner some points.

"I think we're close," Conway said. "I think we're doing a lot of things well in spells and then showing a bit of our youth and not concentrating. We can get better all the way around, fine tune things and we'll be OK."

The Fire are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. Houston moved over to the East this season as the West brought in the expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. The Dynamo sits in the upper third of the East with a 2-1-2 record and eight points.

Fire defender Cory Gibbs missed training this week and will not play because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the second half of Chicago's loss to L.A. Colombian Yamith Cuesta, who was acquired from Chivas USA, will get the start in Gibbs' place, playing to the left of Josip Mikulic.

De los Cobos also is pondering a change within the midfield, and Libertyville native Baggio Husidic's name has come to the forefront. De los Cobos said "it's possible" for Husidic to see an increased role. Husidic has seen limited action this year after scoring five goals last season.

"I might make some changes in the middle, because one part of the midfield I think we need to improve is the creation," De los Cobos said.

Houston enters Toyota Park having won its past two matches -- a 3-1 decision over Vancouver on April 10, followed by a 1-0 win against the New England Revolution last Sunday. The Dynamo defense has allowed only four goals in five games this season.

Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis is among the league leaders with three assists this season, and goalkeeper Tally Hall enters the weekend third in saves with 19.

Chicago acquired Dominic Oduro from Houston in exchange for Calen Carr earlier this season. Carr still is out with a concussion injury and has not played this year. Oduro tallied the Fire's lone goal during their loss to the Galaxy last week.