The San Jose Earthquakes are struggling. No wins, six losses, and seven ties in their last 13 matches has put Frank Yallop's side in a dire situation just one point behind the Fire but headed in the wrong direction. To make matters worse the club signed Ecuadorian forward Edmund Zura on loan from El Nacional on August 15 only to terminate the loan 16 days later when Zura couldn't pass fitness tests. Certainly an embarrassing development after Yallop declared weeks earlier that the club needed to add quality.
Defensively Jon Busch will continue to play despite a facial fracture and the team is fairly capable in the back. There aren't many household names but they've been serviceable even through the current 13 game funk. Bobby Burling and Jason Hernandez are the centerbacks that Yallop will entrust to defend the Fire's pace up front. This appears to be a good match up possibility for the Fire. Chris Leitch and Justin Morrow are the outside backs although Steven Beitashour and Ramiro Corrales have been given shots in the first eleven.
Offensively is where the Earthquakes have really struggled. A lack of midfield engine and no creative playmaker makes them predictable and relatively easy to defend. Making matters worse for them they will also be without Bobby Convey tonight due to yellow card accumulation. That leaves Yallop with a likely mixture of Joey Gjersten and Ramiro Corrales on the flanks with some combination of Rafael Baca, Khari Stephenson, Sam Cronin, or Brad Ring to fill out central midfield. Not exactly boot shaking even with Convey in the mix.
Forward Chris Wondolowski continues to be productive with 9 goals on the season but has been neutralized of late as teams have clamped down on their only scoring threat. Simon Dawkins, who is more of a midfielder has also seen minutes as a second forward. San Jose will also be without the services of the irritant Steven Lenhart who is their second leading scorer. During their current 13 game winless stretch the Quakes have scored only 7 goals and have been blanked 8 times.
On the Fire's side expect Frank Klopas to keep things as close to constant as possible from here on out. The loss of Gonzalo Segares due to yellow cards will necessitate some shuffling in the back line in front of Sean Johnson. Klopas has indicated that Cory Gibbs could move to left back since he has some experience there. Dan Gargan flipping sides with Jalil Anibaba moving back to the right side is also another possibility. Mike Banner was given starts at left back during the last two reserve matches and might have gotten the call if not for an ankle injury suffered in Tuesday's reserve match against Real Salt Lake. I'd like to see a back line consisting of Gargan on the right, Gibbs on the left, with Anibaba and Josip Mikulic in the middle.
The midfield may also see a slight change since Marco Pappa did not re-join the team until Friday due to international duty. Pappa played the full 90 minutes in both of Guatemala's matches last week and picked up a thigh knock which could keep him out of the starting eleven. Fortunately for Klopas and the Fire, both Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo appear fully fit after picking up hamstring and calf injuries. Both players resumed full training this past week at Toyota Park. If Pappa doesn't start we could see Orr Barouch given a chance to play more minutes opposite of Logan Pause on the outside.
Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko will continue to give opposing defenses fits with their pace up top and this game should be no exception.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Steven Kinney (lower abdominal strain); MF Marko Maric (L ankle posterior capsulitis); DF Mike Banner (R ankle sprain); MF Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL tear); DOUBTFUL: MF Corben Bone (R knee contusion)
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES -- OUT: MF Andre Luiz (L knee injury); DF Ike Opara (L foot injury); FW Alan Gordon (surgery); FW Steven Lenhart (family leave); DOUBTFUL: DF Justin Morrow (R hamstring strain); FW Scott Sealy (L groin strain); PROBABLE: MF Brad Ring (R shoulder sprain); MF Anthony Ampaipitakwong (L groin strain)
These are two teams going in opposite directions at the moment. If the Fire are to make a last ditch effort for the tenth and final playoff spot the move has to start here.
Fire 1 Earthquakes 0
Chicago Fire Fanzine
Jeff Harbert over at ChicagoFireBlog.com has put together an excellent online magazine focusing on the Fire. Stop by and check it out here. It's very well done! I was also happy to contribute a "small grain of sand" to the project.