After an unsuccessful two game Pacific Northwest road trip the Fire are back home in need of a victory against an undermanned Los Angeles Galaxy side. David Beckham, Juninho, Jovan Kirovski, and most importantly Landon Donovan will all be missing when the match kick offs at 3 pm.
The Galaxy have struggled offensively even with Beckham and Donovan in the line up. Donovan has yet to record a goal or an assist in the three matches which he has participated in and Bruce Arena recently moved Beckham into a central midfield role in hopes of generating some offense. That has been a problem. Los Angeles has scored only 2 of their 5 total goals this season from the run of play. The other three have come from set pieces and they are now without their set piece maestro in Beckham.
The Galaxy are still solid defensively however. Donovan Ricketts has not not allowed a goal in his three games started and the back line is difficult to break down. Aside from a 4-1 pounding by Real Salt Lake, they've been stout. Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo are the center backs while AJ De LaGarza and Todd Dunivant man the flanks. Sean Franklin, a sometimes starter at right back will likely move into a starting role in midfield as he has done on numerous occasions over the last few seasons.
Bruce Arena has some juggling to do in midfield without three starters in Beckham, Donovan, and Juninho. Chris Birchall is the likely choice in the holding role with some combination of Mike Magee, Bryan Jordan, Franklin, and rookie Paolo Cardozo filling out the middle. Twenty-two year old Argentine Miguel Lopez may also get the call in central midfield if he is not paired up top with Juan Pablo Angel. LA's other option at forward, Chad Barrett is well known to Fire fans. Josip Mikulic claims to be ready to go after missing the last two matches in central defense for the Fire. The back line has appeared less cohesive and at times downright disorganized in his absense. "I need to wait for tomorrow. He's ready to play. As the coach I need to analyze and put on the table the circumstances for the other side," said De Los Cobos after training yesterday.
De Los Cobos is still happy with the Dasan Robinson/Cory Gibbs combination if Mikulic is given the nod. Juan Pablo Angel must be accounted for at all times despite his current struggles in form but his pace doesn't pose a particular problem.
De Los Cobos appeared to back up the teams confidence in Sean Johnson when asked about the keeper's struggles this season. "Sean is a young player, sometimes we put a lot of pressure on young guys. It's normal to make mistakes sometimes. It's the only way to learn. Sean has the support of his coach, the players, the team. He needs to understand that it's important to work and improve and learn from mistakes. We need to stay calm because everybody believes in him," he said.
The Galaxy will also be playing their third match in eight days after a 0-0 draw in Toronto on Wednesday so the Fire's midfield may stay unchanged. "I want to wait to tomorrow (Sunday) to make my decision (on the line up) but I think it will be very similar to the the line up we used in the last two matches," said De Los Cobos.
Bratislav Ristic is available and could see some action but the news is not as good for Marko Maric, who suffered an ankle injury in Portland. The Fire are awaiting test results on the injury and should know more about his status on Sunday.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); QUESTIONABLE: MF Marko Maric (L ankle sprain)
LA GALAXY -- OUT: DF Gregg Berhalter (L knee MCL sprain); FW Adam Cristman (L knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Landon Donovan (R knee inflammation); MF Hector Jimenez (R wrist surgery)
The Fire have struggled defensively for stretches this season but have been fairly productive offensively. Los Angeles has been pretty solid defensively but have struggled in the final third. Without their main offensive weapons, the Fire backline and the embattled Johnson should be able to hold down the visitors. This match could be a bit ragged but the Fire should pull through.
Fire 1 Galaxy 0