The Fire is hoping that Tuesday's penalty kick victory over the Earthquakes will serve as a spring board to a reversal of fortunes. Despite advancing to the US Open Cup tournament for a fourteenth consecutive season the Fire are still winless in their last eight MLS regualr season matches. After a difficult start of the their own, winning only once in their first eight matches, San Jose has won it's last two at home against Columbus and New England allowing them to crawl back towards respectability.
Frank Yallop didn't start all of his first choice eleven on Tuesday night in deference to an apparent emphasis on league play over the USOC. Jon Busch will be in goal after sitting out on Tuesday night and their regular back line should be mostly available. Ike Opara, who scored a late game time at Toyota Park last season, and Jason Hernandez are the likely center backs. Brandon McDonald is also in the picture at center back having started seven games there this year in place of Opara. Chris Leitch is the right back but the left side is a bit uncertain. Bobby Convey has started on the left side but due to the absense of Ryan Johnson on international duty with Jamaica he may be moved back up to his natural position at left mid. Ramiro Corrales is the presumed starter on the left if Convey moves forward but Justin Morrow could also get the call.
Like most MLS teams San Jose is struggling to find a central pairing that works in midfield. Because of relative success over the last several matches we should see Yallop continue with Kari Stephenson and Brad Ring in the middle. Sam Cronin, who started seven of the first ten games is also an option. Simon Dawkins, who has also seen time as a starter is out with an injury. Joey Gjertsen has started the last two matches on the right side. Convey is a solid player on the left side but this midfield appears one that the Fire can match up favorably with.
Up top, Chris Wondolowski has shown that last season was not a fluke by continuing to show that he is one of the most dangerous finishers in the league leading the team with five goals. His efforts have earned him a call up to Bob Bradley's Gold Cup squad. San Jose is also bullish on the flailing, physical presence of former Crew forward Steven Lenhart whose playing style I've previously compared to human pinball in the penalty area. Ellis McLoughlin, who scored in the USOC match is also an option as is Tuesday's goat Scott Sealy.
Carlos De Los Cobos has expressed his satisfaction with the 4-1-4-1 formation but this past Tuesday saw Cristian Nazirit and Gaston Puerari start up top in a 4-4-2. De Los Cobos also said last week that he liked what he saw from Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone and would continue to start them in the middle so it will be interesting to see how Logan Pause plays into the equation now that he is fully fit. Marco Pappa and Dominic Oduro should enjoy a favorable match up with San Jose's outside backs.
Diego Chaves has taken a bit of a beating as the lone forward in the 4-1-4-1 formation and left the Philadelphia game at half time. His foot contusion also kept him from travelling and he was not available for the USOC match. Puerari is obviously more comfortable as a withdrawn forward as opposed to a central midfielder so De Los Cobos has some decisions to make with regard to personnel and formation in trying to implement Puerari and Nazirit.
Sean Johnson is back to health after nursing a quad injury for the last few weeks but he did allow a questionable second goal on Tuesday which leads me to believe that De Los Cobos will continue to opt for Jon Conway in goal for the time being. Conway hasn't exactly set the world on fire either (no pun intended) allowing two goals last weekend in Philly but with pressure mounting and home wins becoming an absolute necessity, the coach will probably stick with the "safer" veteran choice.
Cory Gibbs, Yamith Cuesta, Jalil Anibaba, and Gonzalo Segares should continue in the back if Josip Mikulic is still not ready to return. Bratislav Ristic started in place of Anibaba last Saturday but didn't exactly distinguish himself as a right back.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); DOUBTFUL: MF Patrick Nyarko (concussion); MF Marko Maric (L deltoid sprain/talar dome contusion); DF Josip Mikulic (L clavicle stress fracture)
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES -- OUT: MF Simon Dawkins (R/L bilateral fasciotomy); MF Andre Luiz (L knee surgery); DOUBTFUL: DF Tim Ward (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Scott Sealy (L hamstring strain)
If Tuesday's win is of any importance and the confidence that comes with a dramatic come from behind victory plays any role in turning around momentum, now is the time to show it. The Fire are an unimpressive 1-1-2 at home with five goals for and five goals against. The broken record that is this space says that improving those stats is vitally important to any hopes of a challenge for a playoff spot.
Fire 1 San Jose 1
Daniel Paladini and Gonzalo Segares will each sit out a game with the receipt of their next yellow cards.
The Rest of the League
Philadelphia 1 Toronto FC 1 - The Union got a win last weekend but both goals were somewhat fortunate. TFC is much better at home.
New York 1 Vancouver 1 - No Henry but it's New York's last chance at max points before losing 5 starters to Gold Cup duty.
Columbus 1 Chivas 0 - The Crew just don't lose at home. The Fire should take note.
Los Angeles 1 New England 0 - Shalrie Joseph will decide after this game if he is indeed departing for Gold Cup action with Grenada. He's considering staying with his club.
FC Dallas 1 Houston 1 - Is Houston indeed two times better than Dallas?
Colorado 2 Sporting KC 1 - The long hard road continues for Kansas City.
Real Salt Lake 2 Seattle 1 - RSL is having issues without Morales and Saborio is already gone with national team duty. Seattle is showing signs of internal turmoil with Schmid pubically battling players and opposing coaches. RSL doesn't lose at home though.
Portland 2 DC United 0 - Another team taking full advantage of their home turf.
Tomorrow's broadcast will be a shared feed with Dan Kelly on play by play and San Jose's John Schrader providing the color commentary. Evan Whitfield will report from the sidelines.