A second consecutive match on the road against an Eastern Conference rival offers the Fire an opportunity to get back in the thick of the playoff race with a result against a team that sits in a tie with them on fourteen points. New England has struggled this season with a 3-7-5 record and only 11 goals scored. Midfielder Shalrie Joseph continues to be the heart of their team offensively and defensively. Joseph leads the side with four goals scored but their reliance on him to carry the team is the biggest problem since they are relatively easy to defend. Marko Perovic, a dangerous midfielder who has provided some offensive support has only played in four matches due to injury and new acquisition Benny Feilhaber appeared in six before injuring his ankle. Feilhaber is back to light training and is not expected to be ready this weekend. No other New England player has scored more than once.
The Revs haven't been stellar defensively either. The 0-0 draw on Wednesday night at home against Toronto FC, a match that TFC controlled for stretches was only their third clean sheet of the season. Long time Fire nemesis Matt Reis is still the goalkeeper in front of a defense that has allowed 19 goals. Kevin Alston, Ryan Cochrane, AJ Soares, and Darius Barnes formed the back line in the mid-week match and will probably remain intact with the exception of Cochrane who is now listed as out. He will be replaced by Franco Coria. Didier Domi has seen considerable time at left back in place of Barnes this season but he is listed on the injury report as well with achilles tendonitis.
Joseph is unquestionably the most important player in the side despite filling the "holding midfield" role. The Grenada international is often called upon as an attacking midfielder or even as a forward at times. Without Feilhaber and Perovic there isn't much bite in midfield. Chris Tierney has been decent on the left side but Zak Boggs and Pat Phelan probably aren't destined for much more than MLS journeyman status. Sainey Nyassi or newly signed Ryan Guy could also get a look since Boggs has now joined the Revs list of walking wounded.
Up front, finishing has been a huge issue for Steve Nicol. After switching from a 4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2 two games ago the Revs have improved their flow somewhat but still haven't been able to score. As front runners Kenny Mansally, Zack Schilawski (who showed some flashes in his rookie season last year), and Rajko Lekic have two goals and three assists combined between the three of them. Lekic in particular has drawn the ire of Revs supporters and didn't do anything to endear himself to teammates after calling out Mansally on the pitch in the 70th minute Wedensday night because of what he perceived as a bad cross attempt.
The Fire haven't allowed a goal under Frank Klopas' direction and they should be able to hold New England's feeble attack to very few scoring chances. Josip Mikulic returned to full training this week but he is at least a week away from regaining match fitness. The only question in the back line at the moment is whether Klopas chooses Jalil Anibaba or Bratislav Ristic at right back. Sean Johnson appears to have solidified his status and regained his form since resuming his starting role in goal.
After a fine second half effort in Columbus I'm expecting Patrick Nyarko to start again opposite of Dominic Oduro on the outside. Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini will probably get the nod in the middle and seem to work well together although Baggio Husidic also turned in a good performance in Columbus last week. Corben Bone shouldn't be discounted either.
Klopas opted for the Uruguayan connection up top to start the match last Sunday but with Gaston Puerari now in Mexico the Fire lack a true "underneath" or "playmaking" forward. Diego Chaves has filled the role on a few occasions with Cristian Nazirit as the target forward so I'm thinking that will be the choice for now. Orr Barouch has chipped in with key scores at opportune times this season as a substitute and will probably continue to come off the bench.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis), MF Marko Maric (L deltoid ligament sprain)
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: DF Ryan Cochrane (L hamstring strain), MF Ousmane Dabo (R quad strain); DF Didier Domi (R achilles tendonitis), FW Kheli Dube (whiplash); MF Marko Perovic (L knee sprain); DOUBTFUL: MF Zak Boggs (R knee MCL sprian); QUESTIONABLE: MF Benny Feilhaber (R ankle sprain)
The Fire face another match against a heated rival on their home turf with both sides in dire need of victories. New England is 0-4-1 in their last five matches and a scoreless draw at home against Toronto isn't exactly a harbinger of good things to come.
I think the Fire control this match in midfield in similar fashion to the Columbus game if they can negate Joseph's influence. That may be easier said than done because the Crew doesn't have anyone near his caliber.
Fire 1 Revolution 1
The Rest of the League
San Jose 1 Sporting KC 0 - Earthquakes are in a good run of form but we'll find out right away if KC's win in Dallas was a fluke.
Seattle 2 Toronto FC 1 - I just don't rate TFC very highly.
Columbus 1 Houston 2 - The Crew have maintained competitiveness early in the season with a few grinding results. Good times may be over in Columbus unless they make some changes in midfield.
Los Angeles 1 Colorado 1 - Arena keeps getting results despite missing key players and both sides are on a run of draws.
DC 0 RSL 1 - Real Salt Lake is looking to re-establish the Rio Tinto fortress. Can they do it without Morales?
Philadelphia 0 Vancouver 1 - Going with the upset here if the Whitecaps can capitalize on some momentum after Hassli's ridiculous strike.
FC Dallas 1 Chivas 2 - FC Dallas was in a very good run of form before inexplicably getting blasted last week by KC at home. Chivas has been better than anyone thought they would be.
New York 2 Portland 2 - The Red Bulls are still missing key players due to the Gold Cup although Dwayne DeRosario's Canadian team are out. Portland should make it tough.