The month of May includes several matches which should be considered as "must win" challenges for the Fire. A home game against a struggling expansion side coming off of a Wednesday night match is the first of those scenarios. The Vancouver Whitecaps played to a 1-1 draw against the NASL's Montreal Impact on Wednesday in a match that went into 30 minutes of extra time. The Whitecaps also played much of their first choice starting eleven so the Fire should enjoy something of an advantage in terms of fitness.
The Whitecaps are 1-4-3 on the year (0-3-0 on the road) but they have shown an ability to be dangerous in the offensive third at times. Eric Hassli, their 6'-4" designated player is an imposing and dangerous forward that may cause problems for a Fire defensive unit that has been prone to mistakes and missed marks in the penalty area. Diminutive Brazilian Camilo is likely to pair with Hassli up top although this year's first pick in the MLS Superdraft, Omar Salgado has shown flashes of brilliance. Salgado was a starter on Wednesday night in Montreal and Camilo has been more effective at home in Vancouver than in road matches.
Teitur Thordarson's formation of choice is a basic 4-4-2 that features speed and craftiness on the wings. Davide Chiumiento, a holdover from the Whitecaps days in USSF division 2, is among the league leaders in assists and will handle most of Vancouver's set piece chances from the right wing. The opposite side will likely see speedster Shea Salinas who is now playing for his third MLS team in as many years. Salinas has missed time this season due to injury while Wes Knight, Nizar Khalfan, and 18 year old Russell Tiebert have played on the wings so far this year. Chiumiento appears to have the freedom to switch sides and roam offensively as their chief playmaker.
Central midfield is manned by Gershon Koffie in the "holding" role and team captain Terry Dunfield. The latter is another USSF holdover who can occasionally serve a good ball and should be respected as a threat. Vancouver had hoped that former Fire John Thorrington would play a role in midfield but Thorrington continues to be plagued by the injury bug that followed him for much of his time in Chicago, appearing in only one match this season.
Defensively, USMNT center back Jay DeMerit has only appeared in two matches due to injury and he will not be available in Chicago. Alain Rochat has played well defensively and in support from his left back spot but the remaining three defenders Mouloud Akloul, Greg Janicki, and Jonathan Leathers appear to be a favorable match up for the Fire's attackers. Jay Nolly has started all but one match in goal with MLS veteran Joe Cannon as his back up.
Carlos De Los Cobos seems committed to sticking with the 4-1-4-1 formation and personnel that earned a point in Colorado for this match. Don't expect many changes from the eleven that kicked off last weekend although Cory Gibbs has returned to full training and will likely find a spot in the line up. Josip Mikulic spent most of the week in a sling nursing a shoulder injury but he is no longer listed on the Fire's injury report. Yamith Cuesta is the likely choice if either Gibbs or Mikulic is unavailable. Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba are sure to start on the outside.
De Los Cobos seemed fairly satisfied with the reorganized midfield although they were once again beaten badly in terms of possession last weekend. All indications have been during the week that the combination of Daniel Paladini, Corben Bone, Marco Pappa, Dominic Oduro, and Gaston Puerari will get another look. If Paladini and Segares can control Chiumiento a five man midfield against this Vancouver side should see the Fire control possession for once this season. Logan Pause will miss a second consecutive game with a hamstring strain and Patrick Nyarko has missed training time this week due to illness.
Diego Chaves will start as the lone forward while new acquisition Cristian Nazirit has joined the side but has been ruled out for Saturday.
Both Jon Conway and Sean Johnson spent time practicing with the first team during the week but De Los Cobos had not yet decided on a starter as of Thursday. Johnson may have been given another shot last weekend in Colorado but a minor injury kept Conway in the net.
OUT: Mike Banner M (L achilles tendinitis), Steven Kinney D (R achilles repair), Michael Videira M (concussion), Logan Pause M (R hamstring strain), Marko Maric M (L deltoid sprain/contusion); QUESTIONABLE: Gabriel Ferrari F (L hamstring strain), Patrick Nyarko M (illness)
OUT: Atiba Harris F (R knee surgery), Michael Nanchoff M (groin strain), John Thorrington M (R calf strain); DOUBTFUL: Jay DeMerit D (groin strain)
I don't know how many times I can type this, but the Fire MUST begin taking advantage of favorable situations by winning all three points against troubled teams at home. A failure to do so this weekend will raise many eyebrows even higher.
Vancouver is an expansion side struggling mightily in road matches with short rest.
Fire 2 Whitecaps 1
The Rest of the League
Portland 2 Philadelphia 1 - The Union have made a living from tight defensive struggles this season but they will be missing two starters on the back line. The Timbers have been impressive at home defeating Real Salt Lake last weekend.
Real Salt Lake 2 Chivas USA 0 - The best team in the league gets back to business after a tough week.
Toronto FC 1 Houston 1 - After losing at home on Wednesday the Dynamo travel to Toronto to face a pretty bad TFC side.
FC Dallas 2 DC 2 - United had been struggling defensively before defeating Seattle on Wednesday night. Can the Hoops move forward without Ferreira?
Columbus 1 Seattle 0 - The Crew are winning ugly but they're winning. Despite major personnel losses they are still incredibly difficult to beat at Crew Stadium.
Colorado 1 New England 1 - After getting trounced by Chivas can the Revs bouce back against another team on short rest?
Los Angeles 2 New York 1 - Big cities, big stage, big names. Landon Donovan will be the difference.