The Fire lost to Philadelphia 2-1 back on May 21 but like many games this season they felt a better fate was deserved. A long distance goal from Michael Farfan and a 75th minute golazo by Carlos Ruiz that caught Jon Conway flat footed proved to be the difference on that occasion. Ruiz, who is the Union's leading scorer with six goals has apparently been sold to Veracruz in Mexico and won't be available tonight. The move is an odd one given that Peter Nowak's side has struggled to score for most of the season but it does allow Sebastien LeToux to move into a forward spot rather than the wide midfield role that has apparently stifled him this season. After an MVP caliber 2010 LeToux has one goal this season and that was from the penalty spot. Second year man Danny Mwanga has scored five times and was paired with LeToux up top in Friday's 2-1 loss to Colorado in Philadelphia. That combination should return to challenge Fire defenders.
In midfield Justin Mapp (2G 2A) and Keon Daniel are the usual starters on the outside with Kyle Nakazawa and Brian Carroll in the center of the pitch. Roger Torres is also an option here after scoring the Union's only goal last Friday.
Defensively Faryd Mondragon is one of the league's top goalkeepers and the back line has been fairly solid ahead of him. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes are the central pairing but right back Sheanon Williams, who has played in all twenty matches this season for Philadelphia is out for this game due to a red card suspension. It's likely that Michael Farfan will get the nod in his place with his brother Gabriel on the opposite side. The Union aren't a particularly deep squad and the Farfan's have been used as utility players who can fill in where needed.
Frank Klopas' line up choices will be interesting to see. With the additions of Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo the Fire now have a multitude of options in terms of formations and personnel in the final third. Grazzini was brought in to fill the playmaking void and provide the creativity that has been lacking all season. He's also had several weeks to train with the side so I'm expecting that he gets his first start tonight in central midfield. Pardo just joined the team last Thursday and appears to be close to playing shape by all accounts but I don't see him starting tonight. He should be available on the bench as part of the 18 man game day roster with Logan Pause continuing in his role at holding mid. The combination of Nakazawa and Carroll isn't particularly threatening so a four man midfield diamond with Pause or Pardo in the second half should be able to hold their own against them. Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko will certainly test the Farfan brothers on the outside.
Up front there are options as well with Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazirit, and Dominic Oduro among the choices. I'm looking for Oduro and Nazirit to get the call ahead of and in combination with Grazzini in the playmaking role. Eventually I believe we'll see Pause and Pardo in tandem with Grazzini in the withdrawn role behind Nazirit or Oduro. Logan Pause began his career with a lot of time at right back but I don't believe he's fast enough to deal with the quicker outside players in MLS. Pause could return to that spot but only against certain match ups.
If Pause stays in his holding role the back line won't change with the exception of Josip Mikukic who will replace Yamith Cuesta due to the red card awarded to him against Portland on July 16. Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares, and Jalil Anibaba should continue to start in front of Sean Johnson.
Chaves, Gibbs, and Segares will all receive an automatic one game ban upon receipt of a yellow card in this match.
FIRE: OUT - Steven Kinney D (R achilles repair), Marko Maric M (L deltoid sprain); QUESTIONABLE - Gabe Ferrari F (R ankle sprain)
UNION: QUESTIONABLE - Levi Houapeu F (L ankle strain)
The Fire are now in "do or die" territory and Philadelphia could be in for a tough stretch after sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the season. The Fire have shown they are capable or tying anybody in any situation.
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