In a match that falls in the middle of a very busy stretch for both teams this game itself may not be the main focus of attention for either club. With an eye towards resting his first team amid a run of six games in nineteen days, Jason Kreis fielded a side made up of mostly bench players and reserves in Washington this past Saturday and the result was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Dwayne DeRosario and DC United. While Kreis probably won't field seven bench players like he did against DC he may still mix it up in anticipation of a big showdown looming this coming weekend against the Western Conference leading Los Angeles Galaxy.
Nick Rimando will probably remain in goal (he's started 28 of 29 matches) and the first choice back line should be mostly intact. RSL boasts what probably is the best center back tandem in the league in Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave. Borchers started and played ninety minutes against DC but Olave was held back in favor of Raushawn McKenzie. It's possible that Kreis decides to give Borchers a rest with Chris Shuler in the middle knowing that the Fire may be resting players as well. Outside backs Chris Wingert and Robbie Russell are available for selection although both are battling injuries.
RSL's midfield will see the return of playmaker Javier Morales at some point in this match although it doesn't seem to be likely as a starter. Second year player Collen Warner has seen plenty of time in his absence but he's nowhere near the caliber of Morales. MVP candidate Kyle Beckerman should be in the first eleven given that he missed their September 21 match due to yellow card accumulation. Kreis also has talented players to choose from on the outside with Will Johnson, Andy Williams, Arturo Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, and Jean Alexandre all at his disposal.
Alexandre and Paulo Jr. got the start at forward against DC in place of Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola and one of them may got a shot again in this match since RSL's next game on Saturday in Los Angeles will be followed by a Thursday trip to Vancouver.
Frank Klopas has hinted at resting starters ahead of the US Open Cup Final on October 4 in Seattle. This match, followed by a trip to Houston on Saturday will require a tricky balancing act between the Fire's quest for an unlikely playoff spot and the opportunity to win a trophy in the US Open Cup. The Fire's defense will be bolstered by the return of Cory Gibbs but I'd expect that he sits out the Houston match in anticipation of Tuesday night's final. How many of the other starters in the back are utilized on Wednesday night is anyone's guess although I can see the usual backline featuring Jalil Anibaba, Dan Gargan, and Gonzalo Segares getting the call against Real Salt Lake with reserves being called on in Houston.
Sebastian Grazzini will be out of this match and could also miss the Houston game with a hamstring injury but the Fire are correct in being cautious with him. Grazzini's healthy presence in Seattle is vital to any chances for a fifth US Open Cup title. Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, and Pavel Pardo surely won't go ninety minutes in the next two matches either. While Baggio Husidic probably takes over the attacking mid role as he did in relief of Grazzini on Sunday it's also an opportunity to get a look at Corben Bone in meaningful action. Since an outstanding effort in Toronto in May, Bone has disappeared back into the shadows seeing limited time during regular season play and has not impressed in reserve league action either. Daniel Paladini will surely see considerable time in the next two games and could start one of them if not both.
Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko put in a lot of miles and expend a lot of energy in their roles up top so Diego Chaves and Orr Barouch will be called upon at some point as well. Could we also see the Fire's highest paid player, Cristian Nazirit on the pitch again before the US Open Cup final? Nazirit has fallen down the depth chart enough that he did not even make the 18 on Sunday and has been a regular on the "not dressed" list for the better part of the last month.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL reconstruction); DF Steven Kinney (lower abdominal strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sebastian Grazzini (R hamstring strain)
REAL SALT LAKE -- OUT: DF Tony Beltran (L adductor strain); MF Nelson González (R foot fracture); QUESTIONABLE: MF Javier Morales (L ankle fracture dislocation); GK Kyle Reynish (R ankle bone spur); PROBABLE: DF Robbie Russell (L back spasms); DF Chris Wingert (L wrist fracture)
It seems Klopas is rightly emphasizing the chance for silverware and the US Open Cup but there is still a chance to make the playoffs. Whether it's a realistic chance or not isn't the issue. Fixture congestion at this point of the season is a problem for almost all MLS clubs and the integrity of the regular season shouldn't be compromised by fielding two "all reserve" squads. Klopas has the playoffs to shoot for while navigating towards the USOC and Kreis still feels that he can catch Los Angeles with a fully fit squad. The playoffs and the Supporter's Shield may not be in store for these two clubs but both have shown that they will continue fighting in any situation.
All that being said........Real Salt Lake seldom loses at home.
RSL 2 Fire 1