The Fire and Real Salt Lake meet for the first time on the season on Saturday night at Toyota Park. The Fire, who fell to second place in the East with last week's 0-0 draw at Seattle, will be looking to return to their winning ways against Salt Lake who - with 23 points - sit in 6th in the West.
Continue after the jump for some info on Real Salt Lake and some of my keys to the match...
**The Real Salt Lake -**
RSL is coming off of a 1-1-1 July which saw them beat FC Dallas, tie San Jose and fall to East leading Columbus. Despite their average July, RSL - who is coming off of a 4-2 comeback victory over FC Dallas - has a lot of momentum right now and they will be looking to carry that into Toyota Park.
"This was a season-changing performance," forward Yura Movsisyan told MLSnet.com about last week's win over FCD. "We needed something like this to wake us up for the rest of the season. Everyone was doubting us. We showed a lot of character, a lot of heart, and we got it done."
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - who is coming off of a successful Gold Cup - is one of Salt Lake's better players and the Fire will want to limit his influence on the match.
"He's a guy that holds a lot for them in the middle of the field," said Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "He does a lot of the dirty work and is a guy that's a good two way player. We just have to make sure that we're aware of him. We have to make him defend. The more we can have him worrying about us the better we can be."
The Fire will also have to keep a look out for All Star midfielder Javier Morales and the aforementioned Movsisyan. Both players are dangerous and Movsisyan is on a good run of form, having scored two goals in last week's win over FC Dallas.
**The Fire attack -**
The Fire defense has done its part lately. The back four has shut out two opponents in a row and three of the last four. Saturday figures to be another solid defensive effort for the Fire, especially when you consider that the back four will consist of the opening day lineup of Ward, Soumare, Conde and Segares for the first time since May 28th.
So, with the defense looking good the game really falls to the offense to get out and score some goals. Unfortunately this has been an area that the Fire has struggled with recently - they've been shutout in two of their last three league games - and they will need to step it up on Saturday night.
I think it's a safe bet to assume that Coach Hamlett will run out the same front six that he did against Seattle (subbing Logan Pause in for the suspended John Thorrington though...) and personally I don't have a ton of confidence in that unit to light up the scoreboard. I think it would be interesting to see Denis move Patrick Nyarko to the bench, slide Chris Rolfe up top and insert Justin Mapp into Rolfe's wing position.
Again, I doubt this will happen but I think that it would provide a little spark to the Fire attack...
I think the Fire will be ready for a Salt Lake team that will come into the match riding a high. The defensive effort will be very good for the Fire and I think they get another shutout this week. I think the offense steps it up too - though only just enough - and that Cuauhtemoc Blanco nets a goal for a 1-0 Fire win.
Let's hear some predictions today. See if you can get any closer to the final score than I can. If you do, I promise to give you a little shout out on the site.