Two teams with lengthy winless runs in MLS play face off at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night. The Fire, winless in their last eight (0-3-5) and the Red Bulls who are in the midst of a five game drought (0-3-2) are both looking for answers to questions which have plagued both sides all season.
New York thought they had solved their problems at the goalkeeper position but newly acquired Designated Player Frank Rost hasn't been impressive and now he's injured. Rost will be replaced in goal by Buona Condoul whose struggles necessitated the move for Rost in the first place after losing his starting spot to Greg Sutton. The back line has also been spotty all season as the Red Bulls have allowed 33 goals in 24 matches. Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez would seem to be a more than solid central pairing but things have not come together yet with both players missing considerable time this season due to national team call ups. At right back Roy Miller has been a fixture but last weekend Hans Backe opted for Chris Albright on the left side after moving Jan Gunner Solli into midfield. Solli is questionable this weekend with a quad strain.
Backe has also recently experimented with moving Marquez back into a holding midfield role but I would expect that Dax McCarty and Teemu Tainio continue to start in the middle. Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards are the likely outside starters with Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo up front. That's a lot of fire power but they've shown all season that they will also allow a lot of scoring opportunities.
On the Fire's side Frank Klopas has even more to think about. Defensively, the team was a mess last weekend in Vancouver and there may be some changes in store. Cory Gibbs is still unavailable due to injury but Klopas has a decision to make between Yamith Cuesta and Jalil Anibaba next to Josip Mikulic. Cuesta had his worst game of the season against Vancouver only one week after Anibaba had a solid outing in place of Gibbs against Philadelphia.
Gonzalo Segares is the only real choice at left back as he has been all season but Dan Gargan saw some time with the first team at right back in training this week. Gargan could get the call as Logan Pause moves back into holding midfield next to Pavel Pardo. Pairing the team captain next to the former Club America captain in place of Daniel Paladini is another change that was explored this week. Sebastian Grazzini needs to stay on the field if for nothing else than to find out what he's capable of doing as the Fire plays out the remaining 12 matches of the season.
The choices on the outside should also be intriguing with Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, and Dominic Oduro in the mix. Oduro has started the last two matches as the single forward and did manage to score last week but despite the goal Cristian Nazirit and Orr Barouch seem better suited to a target forward role. Oduro undressed Alain Rochat last weekend on the way to his goal and should find the going a bit tougher against Ream and Marquez although the speed match up there appears to be one that can be exploited. Despite Barouch's success last weekend it seems Klopas is set on Oduro as the forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation to start the match.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Mike Banner (R knee meniscectomy); DF Steven Kinney (L groin strain); MF Marko Maric (L posterior capsulitis); QUESTIONABLE: DF Cory Gibbs (L groin pain)
NEW YORK RED BULLS -- OUT: FW Luke Rodgers (plantar fasciitis); MF Carl Robinson (R knee contusion); GK Frank Rost (R quadriceps tear); QUESTIONABLE: DF Jan Gunnar Solli (R quadriceps strain)
Losing to Vancouver and going 0-3-1 for the season against the two MLS expansion clubs while dropping to the bottom of the table is about as low as anyone could have imagined for the Fire. New York is 5-2-4 at home so things don't appear to be getting any better this weekend.
Red Bulls 2 Fire 1
The Rest of the League
Seattle 2 Chivas 1 - Chivas currently holds the 10th and final playoff spot but the move to pass up on Freddy Adu after declining an allocation for Benny Feilhaber seems curious. Seattle should win at home.
Real Salt Lake 1 Toronto 1 - Somehow TFC is ahead of the Fire in the standings.
DC 2 Vancouver 1 - The Whitecaps shouldn't find the going as easy in Washington as they did last week.
Columbus 1 New England 0 - The Crew has capitalized on mediocre play throughout the Eastern Conference to claim the top spot.
FC Dallas 1 Philadelphia 1 - Adu is training with the Union already and could get into this match. Probably the most interesting game of the weekend.
Colorado 1 San Jose 1 - The Earthquakes continue to drop and Colorado has won three of their last five.
Houston 1 Portland 0 - Dynamo have added Carlos Costly and Luiz Camargo in the last two weeks as they look to make a playoff push.