In what has to be considered the biggest game of the MLS season so far, league leaders Chivas USA and the undefeated Chicago Fire are all set to square off Thursday at the Home Depot Center in Southern California.
Something will have to give in this matchup that pits Chivas's MLS leading defense against Chicago's league leading attack. There will also be plenty of intriguing matchups in the match that will see both sides looking to cement their status as top dogs in the MLS.
Here are a few individual matchups to keep an eye out for.
Chris Rolfe vs. Jonathan Bornstein
Rolfe has been one of the Fire's best players as of late. He has
scored the game winning goal in two consecutive matches and overall has
taken most of his chances very well. The matchup between Rolfe and
Bornstein should be a critical one in the match, and if Rolfe can break
loose from the young left back, expect a good result for the Fire.
Logan Pause vs. Sacha Kljestan
Kljestan started 2009 with a bang, scoring a hat trick for the US in an
international friendly against Sweden. However, his start to the MLS
campaign has not been as successful. Kljestan has dealt with a
benching from Chivas Head Coach Preki and is still searching for his
first goal. He will no doubt view the Fire match as a perfect time to
break out of his slow start. Logan Pause will likely be doing a lot of
marking of Kljestan and if the Fire want to take away a result, it's
imperative that Logan plays strong defense against Kljestan.
Jon Busch vs. Zach Thornton
I know these two won't exactly be seeing a lot of each other once the
match starts, but in a game this evenly matched, the result may very
well come down to goalkeeper play. Thornton has been excellent all
season long, only allowing .55 goals per game. Jon Busch has been
excellent of late, posting two consecutive shutouts at New York and
Chicago should also be on the lookout for Chivas striker Eduardo
Lillingston. The 31-year-old forward has scored in two consecutive
games and is hitting his attacking stride. Stopping him (regardless of
whether he starts or is used as a super-sub) will be critical for the
Fire to pull out a result.
I expect Denis Hamlett to run out the same starting lineup on Thursday
that he did Sunday against the Red Bulls, although the Fire will need
to improve upon their performance on Sunday if they are to get a result
in this match.
Now, I know that I predicted a tie for the Fire in this game earlier,
but I'm going to have to switch that to a Fire win. I think Brian
McBride will get a first half goal and that the Fire will make it stand
up for a 1-0 victory.
How do you see the Fire-Chivas match unfolding? Will the Fire be able
to leave LA with their unbeaten record? Or will Chivas end the Fire's
streak and cement their status as the best of MLS?
Speak up and post below.