The 1st place Chicago Fire will be looking to put an end to their two-game losing streak Saturday night when they take on 2nd place D.C. United at RFK Stadium in the nation's capitol.
The Fire, who are now a little more than a week removed from last Friday's 1-0 defeat to the Houston Dynamo, met United earlier in the year. That match, which took place on March 28th in D.C., saw Fire forward Patrick Nyarko score a second half equalizer in a 1-1 tie.
The Fire's cause will be given a boost by the return of starters Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Gonzalo Segares to the lineup. Both players had missed time due to their participation in recent World Cup Qualification matches.
On the other hand, D.C. will be without their leading scorer, Luciano Emilio, who picked up a red card in United's last match and is suspended for the game against the Fire.
Here are a few questions I have heading into Saturday's game:
Will the Fire get their offense back on track?
After their 3-2 win over Chivas USA on May 28th, the Fire had found the back of the net a total of 20 times. Two weeks and two games later and the Fire are still stuck at 20 goals.
However, the Fire's goalless drought hasn't been for a lack of chances. In fact, in last Friday's match against Houston, the Fire created a multitude of goal-scoring opportunities and by all rights should have had a goal or two.
The return of creative midfielder Blanco to the lineup should help the Fire in this area, and the team will be expecting a return to their goal-scoring ways on Saturday.
Will Fire Defender Wilman Conde be able to play?
Fire starting center back Wilman Conde has missed the last two matches due to an injured shoulder and the Fire's defense has struggled in his absence. C.J. Brown and Dasan Robinson have filled in for Conde and Bakary Soumare (who is still on international duty with Mali)and although they have performed well in the starters' absence, there has been a visible drop-off in quality in the back line. Should Conde, who is listed as probable for the game, be able to play, the Fire's defense will receive a big-time boost.
Will the Fire be able to continue their excellent road form?
The Fire has played fantastic all year on the road, notching 15 of their Eastern Conference leading 21 points away from Toyota Park. But D.C. is no slouch when at RFK Stadium, a place where they have yet to lose on the year. The Fire should come out of the gate ready to play, and now that they are closer to full strength, will be looking to leave Washington with a result.
This game is a tough one for me to predict. The Fire is on an awful run of form right now but they traditionally own D.C. The Fire's attack has been awful, but Blanco is returning to the squad. Seemingly everything that I can point to that would lead to a prediction has a counterpoint that completely cancels it out. So, I'm going to go out on a real limb here and predict a tie. I'm thinking that Saturday will be a repeat of the teams' first meeting and that the game will end 1-1. I see the goals coming from D.C.'s Chris Pontius and Chicago's Marco Pappa.