The Fire will have a new look in central midfield with the absence of team captain Logan Pause. The Fire veteran strained a hamstring during training on Wednesday and will not be available in Colorado to face the defending MLS Cup champion Rapids.
Colorado has injury concerns of their own. Forward Conor Casey is out and has missed the last two matches while the Rapids have lost three in a row. Pablo Mastroeni returned last weekend after time away due to injury and should be back in the starting eleven to team with Jeff Larentowicz in central midifeld. The pairing will be a solid test for whatever combination Carlos De Los Cobos decides to use centrally for the Fire. The outside positions will be filled with some combination of Jamie Smith, Wells Thompson, and Sanna Nyassi. Both Smith and Thompson have seen action in place of Mastroeni as a center mid. The usual starter on the right side, Brian Mullan will miss the next ten games after being suspended for a horror tackle that snapped Seattle winger Steve Zakuani's leg.
With Casey absent, Omar Cummings moves up to a forward spot with 6'-2" English striker Caleb Folan as the target man. Cummings is always dangerous although he seems to be struggling a bit of late without Casey.
The Rapids back line is failry settled with Kosuke Kimura on the right, Drew Moor on the left, and the central duo of Tyrone Marshall and Marvell Wynne. Wynne and goalkeeper Matt Pickens are both on the injury report but are expected to play.
While defender Cory Gibbs is still out of action with a hamstring strain, I'd expect to see Yamith Cuesta back in the line up after a good showing last weekend. The 6'-3" Cuesta is surely a better option to battle Folan's presence in the penatly area than the smaller and slower Dasan Robinson. Josip Mikulic, Gonzalo Segares, and Jalil Anibaba should complete the back line although De Los Cobos seems to be wary of rookie mistakes from Anibaba.
The midfield selections should prove to be very interesting without Pause available at his customary central spot. De Los Cobos has hinted that Daniel Paladini will start in his place but he's yet to decide on who will start along with him in the middle. Baggio Husidic, Mike Videira, and Corben Bone have all been mentioned as options but I'd guess that the combination we see will be Paladini and Husidic.
Paladini started at the "holding mid" spot in the reserve match this past Sunday and looked comfortable there. Husidic wasn't bad but appeared rusty at times in his first start of the season against the Dynamo and should be given another shot. This combination gives the Fire something they haven't had in the center of the pitch at any time this season, two central players who have the ability to keep defenses honest by moving the ball forward. Paladini has an reputation as an excellent free kick taker and dead ball specialist, another facet missing from the Fire's first six matches this season. Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko will fill out the midfield. Nyarko needs to find more consistency if the Fire are to challenge for a playoff spot.
De Los Cobos tried a combination of Diego Chaves and Dominic Oduro at forward last weekend and although Oduro looked dangerous at times, the dynamic that exists between Chaves and Gaston Puerari was not there. Puerari missed some time in training last week due to illness and that may have been a factor in deciding to start Oduro but the best combination so far has been the Uruguayan connection. Oduro is best suited to enter matches as a late substitution in hopes of taking advantage of tired legs with his blistering pace.
Another interesting decision could see the return of Sean Johnson in goal for the Fire. De Los Cobos was non commital in training this weekend as to the identity of the starting keeper and Johnson had an impressive outing in the Sunday reserve match. Johnson has struggled but he should be back in the line up sooner rather than later.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); FW Gabriel Ferrari (L hamstring strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Marko Maric (L ankle sprain/contusion); DF Cory Gibbs (L hamstring strain); MF Logan Pause (R hamstring strain)
COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: FW Macoumba Kandji (L knee ACL tear); QUESTIONABLE: FW Quincy Amerikwa (L ankle sprain); FW Conor Casey (L hamstring strain), DF Eddie Ababio (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain), DF Marvell Wynne (R hamstring strain), FW Caleb Folan (R quadriceps strain)
Both teams are in need of a victory but Colorado has not always been a friendly place for the Fire.
Rapids 2 Fire 1
The Rest of the League
Houston 2 DC 1 - After a good start DC United is falling back to earth with the rest of the pack in the East. Houston will be tough to beat at home.
Philadelphia 2 San Jose 1 - Union is off to a big start and should be able to handle a strugging San Jose side.
Columbus 1 Vancouver 0 - The Crew aren't exactly setting the world on fire but they have been excellent on defense.
New York 3 Kansas City 1 - The Red Bulls are lighting it up offensively of late. Not good news for a very weak KC back line.
Seattle 1 Toronto 0 - Sounders will be missing a key player in Zakuani but DP Alvaro Fernandez will finally get on the field now.
RSL 1 Portland 1 - Champion's League hangover? Let's see how the best team in MLS bounces back after this past Wednesday's disappointment.
New England 1 Chivas USA 1 - Benny Feilhaber gets into his second game with the Revs against one of the teams that passed on him.
Los Angeles 1 FC Dallas 0 - Big trouble without Ferreira.