Dominic Oduro and Calen Carr were the principals in what turned out a huge trade a year ago. On Sunday theyll be rivals when Oduros Fire hosts Carrs Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park.
At the beginning of last season Oduro was an under-achieving striker for the Dynamo and Carr, injury-riddled in his five seasons with the Fire, was trying to recover from a concussion. So, the teams swapped players and -- in one of those rare quirks of fate -- both teams benefitted greatly from the deal.
Oduro had a breakthrough season, scoring 12 goals to become the first Fire player since Damani Ralph in 2004 to tally in double figures. He went on to become a finalist for Major League Soccers comeback Player of the Year, an award that went to Los Angeles David Beckham.
Carr eventually recovered from his concussion, playing in nine regular season games for Houston and starting four of them. He also started all four playoff games as the Dynamo reached the MLS Cup final before losing to Beckhams Galaxy. Carr had two goals in his 11 games for the Dynamo last season, the second a game-winner in postseason play.
Sundays match will hardly be the Oduro vs. Carr show, however. The Fire (1-1-1) and the Dynamo (2-1-0) are happy to be playing again, even though neither team will be at full strength. The Fire hasnt played since a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1. The Dynamo has been off since March 23, a 2-0 loss at Seattle. Houstons schedule called for seven road games to open the season.
The Fire will be without veteran central defender Cory Gibbs, who is out 4-6 months after undergoing knee surgery last week, and right back Dan Gargan (sprained toe) is listed as questionable. The Dynamo will line up without three starting midfielders. Colin Clark and Adam Moffat will serve suspensions and Brad Davis has a calf strain.
Sean Johnson is projected to make his first start of the season in goal for the Fire. He was held out of the first three games after lengthy training stints with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 squad. Coach Frank Klopas gave Johnson game action in two reserve team matches (both losses) and a friendly against the University of Louisville (a 1-0 win) during the long break from MLS action. Italian rookie Paolo Tornaghi was in goal for the first three MLS games.
Carrs role with the Dynamo is uncertain. He underwent meniscus surgery in the offseason and hasnt made a start yet, though he saw 36 minutes of action in two appearances off the bench.
Oduro, though, is more than ready to go. He carried his strong season in 2011 into a fast start in 2012 and claims the trauma of the trade is in the past.
"It was devastating when the trade happened," said Oduro, "but it turned out a positive for me. I was a little surprised when it happened. It wasnt a slap in the face, but it turned out a blessing in disguise. Its in the past, and I dont think about it any longer."
The Dynamo got good without Oduro, but the Fire finished strong, too.
"(Houston) went to the finals. Obviously they played their hearts out," said Oduro. "But Im more concerned with the Chicago Fire. Whats important is that we get three points at home. Im not thinking about it being against my old team. I cant dwell on that."
Neither team could get three points at home when they met last year. Both matches ended 1-1, with Oduro getting the tying goal in the second meeting. Like last season, the Fire is 1-1-1 after three games with a loss the most recent result. After that start last year the Fire went 11 games without a win, but did finish on a 7-2-1 run to just miss the playoffs.
This time the Fire had a 1-1 draw at Montreal and a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia before the loss at Colorado.
"We had everybody back from last year," said Oduro, assessing whats happened so far. "The first game was difficult, playing a new team with their home crowd. In our home game we played well. At Colorado we could have done better, but every day is still a work in progress for us. We cant be perfect all the time. Weve got to stay disciplined, stay focused throughout the game."
On a personal level, Oduro hopes to keep scoring to impress a new coach for Ghanas national team. Both he and fellow striker Patrick Nyarko hope to make that team after getting callups by the former coach, who was recently fired.
"At the end of the day my performance here will show if Im fit (for selection)," he said. "If I do my job here, the rest will be up to the (Ghana soccer) association. We know MLS is really young and getting there. They know about us, obviously, since they did call us up to the national team."