The second match of the season against the league leading Los Angeles Galaxy will feature two teams riding long undefeated streaks. Los Angeles is undefeated in their last eleven matches while the Fire remains unbeaten in seven. The biggest difference between the two? Bruce Arena's side has five victories in their last eleven outings while the Fire's streak includes one solo win and six ties.
In the first meeting between these two teams at Toyota Park on April 17, the Galaxy managed to win the game 2-1 despite missing Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Juninho. In the return match, Donovan and Juninho are available but Los Angeles still has other injury concerns. Their biggest issues could be in the back.
Both Omar Gonzalez and AJ DeLaGarza were injured in last Monday's 0-0 draw with Seattle. Both players are listed as questionable for this game. That would likely leave veteran Gregg Berhalter and Sean Franklin in the center back spots with Bryan Jordan and Todd Dunivant on the outside. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, one of the best in the league is also out of action but Arena can choose from rookie Brian Perk (who started against Seattle) or Josh Saunders.
Midfield is also a bit of an issue, although a lesser one than the back line. Without Beckham, who is also listed as questionable the Galaxy suffer to get service into their attackers. Juninho is still mainly responsible for moving the ball and is also an offensive threat from center midifield but their main source of attack will always come from counter runs led by Donovan. Los Angeles relies heavily on tight defense and counter attacking but Donovan has admittedly been "out of sync" since returning from the Gold Cup. Without an in-form Donovan the Galaxy are relatively easy to defend but still very hard to break down. Chris Birchall in one of the central spots with either Mike Magee or Michael Stephens on the outside are the choices to fill out the remainder of the midfield.
Up front Chad Barrett has unexplicably turned into a Fire killer with 4 goals and 1 assist in 5 matches against his former team but he is also listed as questionable. Miguel Lopez and Adam Cristman are also options if Barrett can't go. Juan Pablo Angel seems to be a shadow of his former self and has struggled for the better part of the last two seasons despite managing to score 3 goals this year.
The Fire's defensive starters seem set with Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares, Cory Gibbs, Yamith Cuesta, and Jalil Anibaba playing solidly as a unit since Frank Klopas took over. Josip Mikulic is healthy but cracking the line up after a good run from the Cuesta/Gibbs combination will be difficult.
How Klopas handles the central midfield problem remains to be see. Daniel Paladini is back from a mandatory yellow card suspension so I'm assuming the central pairing will be Logan Pause and Paladini with Baggio Husidic relegated to the bench. Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa will likely remain on the wings with Dominic Oduro moving into a forward role again. Oduro was named to the MLS team of the week after his performance against Chivas last weekend but the few chances that the Galaxy do allow can't be squandered if the Fire are to manage any result in this one.
Diego Chaves will likely remain in his role as the underneath forward with Cristian Nazirit and Orr Barouch coming into the match some time in the second half as Klopas seems to be developing a set substitution pattern. At some point I'm still expecting to see Pappa move into the second forward slot with Nyarko and Oduro outside and Nazirit or Chaves ahead of him.
This should be a low scoring, tightly played affair since both sides play for the counter attack and Los Angeles is particularly known for playing defensively. The Galaxy are disciplined and very good at running their system when Donovan is in form. The Fire can't afford mental lapses and allow them to control the midfield as Chivas did in the second half last Saturday.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis); MF Marko Maric (L deltoid sprain)
LA GALAXY -- OUT: DF Sean Alvarado (R knee surgery); DF Leonardo (R knee surgery); GK Donovan Ricketts (L ulna fracture); QUESTIONABLE: FW Chad Barrett (R knee sprain); MF David Beckham (back spasms); DF A.J. DeLaGarza (head/face trauma); DF Sean Franklin (L hamstring strain); DF Omar Gonzalez (L hip pointer); DF Frankie Hejduk (R ankle inflammation)
Both teams will look for chances on the counter so it will be very tight and a bit boring until one of the speedsters can break out (Donovan, Oduro, Nyarko). The Fire failed to beat what I called the Galaxy's B team at Toyota Park in April and this match won't be any easier. Los Angeles isn't far behind Chicago in draws (12 to 9) but they need to win at home where they are 4-0-5 with FC Dallas closing in on them for the Supporter's Shield lead.
Galaxy 1 Fire 0
The Rest of the League
Chivas 0 Sporting KC 1 - Don't look now but the Sporting Wizards are making a move up the table.
DC 1 New York 2 - After thrashing TFC midweek the Red Bulls can start acting like the best team in the East.
TFC 0 Houston 2 - July 15 can't get here soon enough for Toronto but I don't think the two new DP's will do much to reverse their fortunes. They are not good.
FC Dallas 1 Real Salt Lake 1 - Very interesting match up at Rio Tinto with Dallas on a roll and RSL treading water a bit.
Vancouver 0 Colorado 2 - At some point Colorado starts acting like defending champs, right?
Philadelphia 1 San Jose 1 - Just has draw written all over it for me.
Seattle 2 Portland 1 - Mount Spencer keeps bubbling before the next explosion.