Two teams at the bottom of table are looking to keep faint playoff hopes alive with a victory on Sunday in Vancouver. The Whitecaps are the worst team in the league with 15 total points and a 0-5-1 record in their last six matches. Some in the Vancouver media view the Fire as an opportunity to get back into the race. Given the Fire's less than stellar 0-2-5 mark in their last seven it's not difficult to see why. Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo provided reason for optimism on Wednesday night but the Fire's string of near recording breaking draws continued even with the impressive debut of both players in central midfield.
Despite losing 4-0 to Los Angeles at home last weekend Tom Soehn's side is a bit more competitive at Empire Field (2-3-5) than they are on the road (0-8-4). The line-up included Joe Cannon in goal with Jonathan Leathers, Michael Boxall, Alain Rochat, and Jordan Harvey in the back from left to right. All indications are that Soehn will not make many changes to last weekend's first eleven.
One change will come as a result of international duty as newly acquired DP Mustapha Jarju will be away with Gambia. The leaves the dangerous Eric Hassli up top with either rookie Omar Salgado or Camilo, who started at left mid against the Galaxy. The speedy Shea Salinas lines up on the right side. If Logan Pause continues at right back the match-up with Camilo or Salinas if he switches over will be one to watch. Gershon Koffie and playmaker David Chiumiento are the central midfielders. Chiumiento leads Vancouver with 8 assists and will be a challenge for the revamped Fire midfield.
It seems that Frank Klopas prefers a 4-5-1 formation at the moment and has indicated that he may go back to it this Sunday. If he does Cristian Nazirit must replace Dominic Oduro as the target man for the formation to succeed. Oduro's talents are simply not catered to holding up the ball and making himself available in the box as target forwards must do in a one striker formation. Starting Nazirit will necessitate that either Oduro, Patrick Nyarko, or Marco Pappa gets moved to the bench since Klopas also seems to prefer two holding players behind Grazzini. My guess is we'll see a midfield consisting of Grazzini in the middle with Pardo and Daniel Paladini in the holding spots again and Oduro and Pappa on the outside. This could be an issue because both Oduro and Pappa are more comfortable on the right, but we'll see. Diego Chaves did not travel due to a knee injury suffered on Wednesday night.
Cory Gibbs did not travel with team after suffering a groin injury on Wednesday night. The injury does not appear to be serious but it was enough to keep him out of training on Thursday and Friday. Jalil Anibaba was solid in relief against Philadelphia but I'm expecting Yamith Cuesta and Josip Mikulic, two bigger bodies in central defense to battle Hassli. Gonzalo Segares and Sean Johnson are givens so the only other decision in back would be a choice between Pause and Anibaba on the right. Pause had a decent game at this spot but Vancouver's pace will be something to consider.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Steven Kinney (L groin strain); MF Marko Maric (L posterior capsulitis); DF Mike Banner (R knee meniscus tear); DF Cory Gibbs (L groin strain); DOUBTFUL: FW Gabriel Ferrari (R ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Diego Chaves (R knee irritation)
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC -- OUT: FW Atiba Harris (R knee surgery); PROBABLE: MF Davide Chiumiento (R calf strain); DF Jay DeMerit (R adductor strain)
The Fire and Whitecaps played to a frustrating 0-0 draw at Toyota Park on May 7 in a match that featured little interest in actually attacking or going forward from the visitors. This time the Whitecaps will need to be more offensive minded and attempt to push the game given their position in the standings. The same can be said of the Fire. Both teams should come out with a sense of urgency as the season lies in the balance. The loser will likely have playoff hopes turned into prayers.
Fire 2 Whitecaps 1
Losing to expansion sides Vancouver and Portland in the same season? Can't happen.
The Rest of the League
Columbus 1 Colorado 2 - Somehow the Crew are atop the Eastern Conference. I still haven't figured out how. Sanna Nyassi is on a ridiculous roll of late.
Chivas 1 New England 1 - The Revolution hope to unveil new DP Milton Caraglio in an important match for New England.
Toronto 1 DC 2 - Is Toronto still the worst team in the league? Even with all the recent transactions and dual DP signings?
Houston 1 Philadelphia 1 - The Dynamo hammered Seattle last weekend and now they have Carlos Costly. The Union officially unloaded Carlos Ruiz.
Seattle 2 Sporting KC 2 - Very interesting match up with the former Wizards are riding a 14 match unbeaten string but missing central defender Aurelien Collin.
New York 1 Real Salt Lake 1 - Both clubs are struggling a bit as RSL is really starting to miss Javier Morales but New York is coming off of international travel after winning the meaningless Emirates Cup competition that Hans Backe did bother to show up for.
FC Dallas 0 Los Angeles 1 - Another interesting match up with the two teams at the top of the table battling for the Supporter's Shield. After getting thumped in Portland I expect LA to get it done.
Portland 1 San Jose 1 - The Earthquakes are dropping like a rock but the Timbers are terrible on the road.