The Fire head into Philadelphia facing another must win situation. After consecutive draws that felt like losses the team should realize that time is quickly running out if they are to make a run for one of the remaining possible playoff spots. The first contest between the two sides resulted in a 2-1 Fire victory that Union manager Peter Nowak was not happy with. "The team that is supposed to play attractive soccer, attacking soccer at home played with 10 guys in the back, behind the ball," Nowak said after the game. "I think we expected something different playing against an expansion team. I believe that in our league this kind of stuff is not supposed to happen. But it's a good lesson for all of us."
Although the match was played in June the Fire was already in mid season form allowing a stoppage time goal by Danny Mwanga that would be a harbinger of the maddeningly frustrating failure to close matches which has become the signature of this squad so far this season.
Peter Nowak continues to stand by goalkeeper Chris Seitz and his ongoing struggles while the back line may be slightly different than the one he deployed in June. Defender Juan Diego Gonzalez has started the last six matches but he is now doubtful with an injury. Michael Orozco Fiscal is also on the injury report with a hamstring strain. Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey have been fixtures all season. Christian Arrieta is likely to return to the line up if Gonzalez is unavailable.
Another recent starter in midfield Eduardo Coudet missed their last match and may not be available for this one. Stefani Miglioranzi fills the holding position with varied combinations of Roger Torres, Fred, Andrew Jacobson, Jack McInerney, and Justin Mapp completing the midfield picture. Mapp has provided a spark off the bench in recent matches but started the Kansas City game last week. As always, Mapp continues to be something of an enigma. Something the Fire organization and fans are very familiar with. Speedy Shea Salinas may also be available after a long injury absense.
The Union are very dangerous up top with Sebastian LeToux and Danny Mwanga combining for an impressive 17 total goals although most of Mwanga's have come off the bench. Former Crew diver extraordinaire Alejandro Moreno also sees minutes at forward and has chipped in with one score.
Nothing is easy for the Fire. Brian McBride and Marco Pappa are doubtful for the match and incredibly, John Thorrington is out yet again although none are listed in the "official" MLS match preview injury report. I would expect that Wilman Conde, CJ Brown, and Dasan Robinson resume their usual positions on defense after Wednesday night's experiment with a faux three man back line that featured Mike Banner as a dual left back/left mid (although it was 90% left back). Hopefully Krzyzstof Krol replaces Banner at left back while Gonzalo Segares serves the second match of a two game suspension received for a bone-headed forearm swipe at Leonardo in the Los Angeles match.
The midfield is yet another puzzle as Carlos De Los Cobos tries to discover how best to use Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljugnberg on the pitch at the same time. Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Freddie Ljugnberg and possibly Baggio Husidic or the aforementioned Mike Banner are my guesses in midfield.
That leaves Castillo and Collins John at the forward spots. Of course, De Los Cobos could always elect to move Ljungberg further up with Castillo filling in at left mid where he appears to be less comfortable.
DOUBTFUL: Juan Diego Gonzalez D (L groin strain); QUESTIONABLE : Toni Stahl D (R ankle strain), Eduardo Coudet M (R calf strain); PROBABLE : Michael Orozco Fiscal D (L hamstring strain)
OUT : John Thorrington M (unknown); DOUBTFUL : Marco Pappa M (hamstring strain), Brian McBride F (quad contusion)
The Fire faces a must win situation almost every day for the rest of the season. Beating an expansion side late in the year is an absolute must. Kinda like beating a team with a 1-8-1 record on the road and directly in front of you in the standings is a must.
Fire 2 Union 1
The Rest of the League
Chivas 1 New England 1 - The Revolution can actually move ahead of the Fire in the table with a road victory and a Fire loss or tie.
Toronto 2 DC 0 - Toronto is back home and DC is just awful. TFC currently sits on 27 points compared to the Fire's 25.
New York 2 Colorado 1 - The first of four road visits against the league's top teams for Colorado. If they manage a win here they are going to be hard to catch for a playoff spot. The Rapids have also been talking up the smack going into this one.
San Jose 1 FC Dallas 1 - The match is in San Jose and FCD is playing without their two starting center backs. San Jose goes without Kari Stephenson and Sam Cronin. The Earthquakes are currently seven points better than the Fire.
Los Angeles 2 Columbus 1 - The top team in the west against the top team in the east. Galaxy needs to make a stand to boost sagging form.
A View From The City of Brotherly Love
I exchanged a brief Q&A with Scott Kessler of SBN Philly's A Brotherly Game. He provided some out of town perspective on Justin Mapp, Peter Nowak, and the Fire's playoff chances. Check it out here.