In a rematch of a April 25th match that was rife with controversy, the first place Fire and the second place Columbus Crew will square off again on Saturday night at Toyota Park (7 p.m. on ESPN2).
The teams first match, a 2-2 draw at Columbus, saw Crew defender Gino Padula receive a questionable straight red card, Cuauhtemoc Blanco give the referee a signed jersey after the match (kinda suspicious...), and (most importantly) the Fire score twice in the last five minutes to secure the point.
I expect Saturday's match to be just as hard fought as April 25th's and the Crew (who have gone 5-1-5 in their last 11) should give the Fire all they can handle.
So with that, here are a few things that should play a significant role in deciding Saturday's game...
**Will the Fire's recent momentum continue against the Crew?**
The Fire has had trouble sustaining good results as of late (despite last week's win they have still lost 5 of 8) but they will be looking to take the momentum gained in Colorado into this week's game against the Crew.
"We really want to build on the first half [of the Colorado game]," said forward Brian McBride. "The second half we got out of rhythm so we want to concentrate on building on the first half and make sure that we stay compact and not open ourselves up because they're a very good team on the counterattack."
Hopefully the Fire can bring their first half form from the Colorado game into Saturday's match. If they do, they should have no trouble taking all three points.
**Will the Fire be able to stop Guillermo Barros Schelotto?**
Slowing down MLS's reigning MVP and current leading goal scorer Guillermo Barros Schelotto is a lot for any team to handle, but it is something that will be critical to the Fire's success on Saturday night.
"When you have a player that's as special as Schelotto you can only try and minimize the amount of time and space that he gets on the ball," said Brian McBride. "We have to keep our shape and not create a lot of space for him to play into."
Head Coach Denis Hamlett furthered McBride's sentiments. "You got to be aware of him at all times," said Hamlett on GBS. "He's their engine, he makes things go, as a starting point we must be aware of him."
Stopping Schelotto will be made tougher by the absence of key defensive players Logan Pause and Gonzalo Segares and it will be crucial for the Fire step up and keep Schelotto in check as he can really influence a match.
**Which team will miss their international players more?**
Both the Fire and the Crew will play Saturday's match without two of their better players. As mentioned above, the Fire will be missing Logan Pause and Gonzalo Segares while the Crew will be without center back Chad Marshall and midfielder Robbie Rogers, both of whom are with the U.S. team for Gold Cup play.
I expect the Fire to come out with the same lineup they used last week at Colorado and Baggio Husidic and Daniel Woolard should fill in for the international players. The Crew is also likely to use the same lineup they ran out in their last game (a 1-1 tie with D.C.) with Emmanuel Ekpo sliding out to the wing for Rogers and Andy Iro coming in for
I think that the Crew have the slight edge in replacing their international players (they really won't miss a beat in the midfield with Ekpo sliding in) but the Fire should look to exploit center back Iro, who has very limited experience this season.
I've been abysmal with these so far but maybe this one will work out...
It'll be good for the Fire to play a MLS match at home (it's been over a month...) and I think they will reap the benefits of the Toyota Park crowd. I see the Fire coming away with their second consecutive 2-1 victory. I think Marco Pappa gets the opener and Brian McBride nets the winner.