As if facing a desperate Toronto FC team that just happens to be loaded with attacking options isn't enough, the Fire will be playing Saturday night's game at Toyota Park without two of their best - as both Cuauhtemoc Blanco and John Thorrington have been ruled out of this weekend's match.
But despite the absence of the playmaking Blanco and the stalwart Thorrington, the Fire (who beat TFC 2-0 on May 16th) is confident that they will be able to walk away from the match with all three points - keeping pace with first place Columbus in the process.
"We need these three points," said Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "We just have to take care of business. I thought we had a very good game against Columbus the other day, from top to bottom we were pretty good creating chances but... I thought we fell asleep on one play defensively so we have to make sure our concentration over 90 minutes is better. If we're able to do that I think we'll be able to pick up three points this weekend."
Ok, ok, so the Fire need to "concentrate" if they want to earn the three points this weekend. But what else do they have to do to shut down TFC? Here are some keys...
**Manage the Midfield:**
There is no debating that Toronto's biggest strength is in the middle of the park. With a foursome that includes newly signed Designated Player Julian de Guzman, 10-goal-scorer Dwayne De Rosario, Honduran National Team Captain Amado Guevara, and Rookie of the Year candidate Sam Cronin, the Fire midfielders/defense will have to be on their toes all night.
"I think they're much improved from when we played them earlier in the year," said Hamlett. "I think they have a guy in good form in [De Rosario] and they've got some good attacking options with Chad Barrett, Amado Guevara and de Guzman... We know they have their offensive punch and we have to cater to and pay close attention to that."
The player in that group that worries me the most is Julian de Guzman. A 28-year-old Toronto native, de Guzman signed with the club earlier this month and has never gone up against the Fire. He will also be (if not the top) one of the top players on the field come Saturday night and Logan Pause/Peter Lowry will have quite a job to do in the middle if they want to keep him under wraps.
"He's a very technical player, very hardworking," said Hamlett of de Guzman. "He's a two way midfielder that's very good on the ball. He's a very good player."
**Find a playmaker:**
With Cuauhtemoc Blanco missing the game due to a hamstring injury, the Fire will need to find a player to spark the attack. Chris Rolfe could very well be that man and I expect the Denmark-bound forward to have a big game against TFC. Another player that I would like to see step up and have a big game is Brian McBride. McBride has struggled a bit since returning from his injury two weeks ago and it would be a very encouraging sign if he were able to put together a solid performance against the Fire's Canadian rivals.
I'll say 2-1 to the Fire. They really are a superior team to Toronto and by all rights they should get three points out of this one. I'll say McBride and Lowry (continuing the hot streak...) score for the Fire while De Rosario nets for our neighbors to the north.
Pestilence was spot on with his 2-2 prediction for the Fire-Crew match last week, so he's the current champ of the prediction contest. Will anyone knock him off this week? I'll guess we'll just have to wait and see...
[5-15-09: Fire-TFC Match Preview ](http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-fire-confidential/2009/05/fire-vs-toronto-fc-match-preview.html)
[5-16-09: Fire-TFC Match Report](http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-fire-confidential/2009/05/fire-2---toronto-fc-0-a-look-back.html)