Two teams with one win a piece after a combined 21 games played isn't exactly a marquee match up but a national audience will get to see the opening of another soccer specific stadium in Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park. It seems that every new stadium opening in MLS is more impressive than the last, which is something that will serve the league well in general audience perception for national broadcasts. As for the teams on the brand spanking new pitch.....neither one is quite the same as it was during their first meeting on March 26 in Bridgeview.
The Fire earned their only victory of the regular season on that day against a team that had trouble defending but had plenty of scoring punch. Defensive personnel changes have improved their back line but the offense has disappeared. Sporting has only scored twice in their last five matches and have been shut out four times in their last seven outings.
The biggest difference defensively for Kansas City since the Fire's first encounter with them in March has been the addition of Aurelien Collin. The French defender had not yet been signed at the time of the first meeting and his central partnership with Matt Besler is an improvement over the pairing of Besler and Scott Lorenz employed by Peter Vermes on March 26. Chance Myers at right back and Michael Harrington on the left (in place of Roger Espinoza due to international duty) will be tested by the Fire's pace on the wings.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is listed on the injury report due to illness but he has resumed training.
Vermes is still playing a version of a 4-3-3 formation but as I mentioned previously, scoring has dried up. The midfield will be missing Craig Rocastle and Stephen Auvray, who are away for the Gold Cup. Both players started the March 26 game but Rocastle has seen more consistent minutes of late. Captain Davy Arnaud is the one constant while several combinations have been utilized that include Graham Zusi, Rocastle, Milos Stojcev, Birahim Diop, Kei Kamara, and Ryan Smith (who started as a forward last week).
The forwards include Omar Bravo, who hasn't done much since returning from injury three weeks ago, Smith and Teal Bunbury. Rookie CJ Sapong got off to a good start this season but has since been relegated to the bench. Bunbury has also struggled, failing to score since April 2 at Vancouver.
On the Fire's side Frank Klopas has hinted at resting some starters who have seen heavy minutes since the team has another match on Sunday in Columbus. Sporting also plays another match this weekend but I would expect Vermes to play his best eleven tonight. The back four should stay intact with Segares, Cuesta, Gibbs, and Ristic and of course Sean Johnson will continue to start. If there are some changes it could come in midfield and up top.
Logan Pause is a definite to start but Daniel Paladini picked up a slight knock on Saturday night and could be replaced by Baggio Husidic although Paladini did train this week and is not listed on the injury report. Dominic Oduro and Corben Bone should get another look since the Fire were succesful in the first half against Seattle with the pair on the outside. Patrick Nyarko probably isn't ready for a full 90 as he works his way back to full fitness.
Klopas also has some options up top with Cristian Nazirit and Diego Chaves. The Fire were most dangerous with this combination last Saturday but one of the two could be rested with Gaston Puerari slotted in as a withdrawn forward. Orr Barouch is also in the picture.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); MF Marko Maric (L deltoid ligament sprain); DOUBTFUL: DF Josip Mikulic (L clavicle fracture)
SPORTING KANSAS CITY -- OUT: FW Konrad Warzycha (R knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: GK Jimmy Nielsen (illness); DF Seth Sinovic (R hamstring strain); DF Kevin Ellis (R knee strain)
Teams are getting a boost from the electricity and excitement of opening new stadiums as the Fire witnessed first hand in Portland this year and New York last season. The Fire have looked decent in stretches althought results haven't really been there. Kansas City has had the unenviable task of battling through ten consecutive road games to start the season and have had stretches of looking really bad.
Both teams will create chances tonight and both will come away disappointed at not being able to pick up three points.
Fire 1 Sporting KC 1
Notes : Diego Chaves and Daniel Paladini will be suspended for 1 match if they pick up yellow cards tonight.