The Fire travel to Kansas City tomorrow where the Wizards have found their only success of the season. Kansas City is 2-0-1 at home and have not allowed a goal in their first three home matches. The Wizards hammered DC United 4-0 on opening night before defeating Colorado 1-0 and holding Los Angeles to a scoreless draw. The Galaxy game featured Kei Kamara's infamous miss from one inch away.
The Wizards have tailored their approach to fit the small field dimensions at CommunityAmerica Ballpark (a converted minor league baseball park being used while the team's new home is built). Peter Vermes has mostly used a flexible 4-3-3 formation with three forwards in hopes of generating more offensively from a side that has struggled to finish all year.
The Wizards back four is fairly solid although center back Jimmy Conrad has missed some time this year due to injury. Newcomer Pablo Escobar had been solid before an awful game in DC led to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of United last Thursday. Micheal Harrington is serviceable on the right while Honduran National Roger Espinoza mans the left side. The back line will provide a formidable challenge for the Fire forwards. Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is new to MLS this season.
The three man midfield usually consists of Davy Arnaud, Jack Jewsbury, and Stephane Auvray. Auvray is the captain of the Guadeloupe National team. Arnaud is out with an injury and Auvray is also out. Argentine Santiago Hirsig (in his second year with KC) and former Chelsea reserve Craig Rocastle will probably replace the pair if they are unavailable.
The three forward set has seen some changes and it could change again on Saturday. Vermes started former Fire Josh Wolff, Chance Myers, and former Arsenal reserve Ryan Smith last week. Smith was impressive in the opener against DC but has struggled with an ankle injury since game one although he has started every match. Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury have also seen minutes up top with Kamara starting six games. The Wizards have struggled mightily on the offensive side recently, scoring only 1 goal in the last four matches while compiling an 0-3-1 record. The lone goal was a meaningless stoppage time goal from Kamara last week against DC. The Wizards also have Indian forward Sunil Chhetri who has yet to see time in a regular season match.
Carlos De Los Cobos has experimented with the two forward formation featuring Collins John and Brian McBride during training this week. According to De Los Cobos he has not decided if he will start with a 4-4-2 formation in an attempt to take advantage of the short field with an additional target or if he will revert to the 4-5-1 formation that worked so well two games ago. The 4-5-1 formation stalled against Toronto amid line up changes and the coach's own admission that he "tried to push the game" too early in Toronto by inserting John into the line-up. Chivas USA also successfully bottled up the midfield the week prior.
If DLC decides to stay with the four man midfield I'm expecting Logan Pause, Marco Pappa, and Patrick Nyarko to start. The fourth spot will be determined by whether Baggio Husidic is sufficiently recovered from an injury sufferd in practice on Tuesday. Husidic returned to full training late this week and is no longer on the Fire injury report.
Justin Mapp who missed the last match with a hamstring injury also returned to training and has been removed from the injured list. If DLC opts for the 4-4-2 formation, there will be some tough choices to make in the midfield. With Mapp, Husidic, Peter Lowry, and Pause available one of them will have to sit to make way for the second forward while two of the remaining three fill the central midfield spots.
Defensively the Fire should bounce back from a heinous showing in Toronto. CJ Brown admitted to an awful collective game from the back four during the week and the effort should not be repeated. Dasan Robinson will likely start in place of the injured Tim Ward while Wilman Conde and Krzysztof Krol fill out the remainder of the starting eleven.
Prediction : Given the state of injuries in the midfield (particularly on the Kansas City side) this match could be a skirmish with few offensive opportunities.
Although, if fully healthy, the Fire's midfield could see some space against Kansas City's 4-3-3. I'll go with Wizards 1 Fire 1.
The Injury Report
The Rest of the League
FC Dallas 2 Union 1
San Jose 1 Revs 0
Crew 2 Chivas USA 1
Rapids 1 DC 1
Red Bulls 2 Sounders 1
Galaxy 2 Toronto 0