With a bit of renewed confidence and an upcoming US Open Cup semi-final match on Tuesday the Fire look to keep their slim MLS playoff hopes alive as they take on the defending MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. The Rapids are in the midst of a busy travel week after battling to a 1-1 draw against Real Espana in Honduras on Tuesday night. After arriving back in Colorado late Wednesday night the Rapids trained on Thursday and headed for Chicago today. Gary Smith used a combination of starters and reserves for the CCL match but travel for MLS sides is something that factors into the difficulty of achieving consistent success in both league play and international play. It's a difficult balancing act for teams that have performed well enough to earn spots in the CCL tournament.
Defensively, Smith rested most of his starters on Tuesday night. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens stayed home while right back Kosuke Kimura was the only regular to play ninety minutes against Real Espana. Center backs Tyrone Marshall and Marvell Wynne should be fresh and ready to go. Left back Drew Moor has played every minute of every MLS match for Colorado this season and did see limited time on Tuesday night.
In midfield Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson both went the distance on Tuesday night. Pablo Mastroeni and Brian Mullan stayed home and should also be well rested. Sanna Nyassi has been red hot of late from the attacking-mid/withdrawn forward spot and should provide a big challenge for Fire defenders in tandem with Caleb Folan who has been on a goal scoring streak of his own. The Rapids have used Omar Cummings off the bench in the last two MLS matches and a Nyassi/Cummings combination up top would be formidable. Both speedsters played on Tuesday night logging 10 and 71minutes respectively. Mac Kandji is also back in action after missing most of this season with an injury suffered in last season's MLS Cup Final.
With the US Open Cup semi-final on the horizon Frank Klopas could opt to rest some of the usual starting eleven but I'm anticipating that he continues to field his best possible side while there is still a glimmer of playoff hope. The number of internationals is limited in the USOC so that may play a role in line up choices for Saturday and Tuesday as well.
I think we'll see a line up similar to if not the same as the one that defeated Toronto FC last Sunday night with Gibbs, Anibaba, Segares, and Gargan in front of Sean Johnson. Grazzini, Pause, Pardo, and Pappa in midfield with Nyarko and Oduro up front. Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazirit, Orr Barouch, Yamith Cuesta, Josip Mikulic and Daniel Paladini could fit into the line up against Richmond on Tuesday if they aren't worked in on Saturday night.
Either way it's not an easy choice. Play for the points in an effort to stay alive and respect the regular season or play for the likely only chance at hardware on Tuesday. I expect the Fire to play for the points on Saturday by fielding a strong line up and assessing the condition of each player at game time on Tuesday.
The Fire's opponent on Tuesday night is also facing some tough choices. The Richmond Kickers will be playing in the USL Pro playoffs semi-final on Saturday night against Orlando City.
The Fire Reserves also face the Rapids Reserves on Sunday morning at Toyota Park.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Steven Kinney (L groin strain); MF Marko Maric (L ankle posterior capsulitis)
COLORADO RAPIDS -- OUT: FW Conor Casey (L achilles tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L knee sprain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain / R calf strain); GK Ian Joyce (abdominal strain); PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain)
The Fire and Rapids played to a 1-1 draw in Colorado on May 30 on goals by Marco Pappa and Andre Akpan. Colorado is a very respectable 5-4-4 away from home but they could be a bit road weary. The Fire needs maximum points from every remaining MLS match but they could be looking forward to Tuesday.
Fire 1 Rapids 1
US Open Cup Finals Possible Hosts Announced
As expected the Seattle Sounders FC will host the US Open Cup Final on October 4 if they manage to defeat FC Dallas on Tuesday night. If the Fire beats Richmond and FC Dallas wins their match, the USOC Final will be held at Toyota Park.
The Rest of the League
MLS has postponed three matches due to concerns over Hurricane Irene. Portland at DC, New England at Philadelphia, and the nationally televised Los Angeles at New York games have all been rescheduled. Here's a stab at predictions for the matches that will be played.
Seattle 1 Columbus 0 - Seattle is on a decent roll but so is Columbus although I'm still a bit incredulous at their success.
Houston 1 Vancouver 1 - Houston has been bad on the road and Vancouver has been okay at home.
Toronto FC 2 San Jose 1 - Chances are this one won't be saved for any time capsules.
FC Dallas 2 Sporting KC 2 - Should be an entertaining match but Dallas has dipped a bit lately.
Real Salt Lake 2 Chivas USA 1- RSL really needs to get Jamison Olave and Javier Morales back. Olave could make a return soon.
Fire Trade Allocation Spot to Seattle
The Fire have traded their allocation spot (currently #4) with the Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for a third round pick in the 2012 Superdraft and Seattle's spot in the allocation order. The trade essentially allows Seattle to select former US U-17 forward Sammy Ochoa through the allocation process. The move leaves the Fire with the fifth spot in the current allocation process but the order is re-set after the season ends.
The Fire now have one first rounder, two second rounders, and two third rounders in the upcoming 2012 draft.