It may be easy to dismiss the Montreal Impact as an expansion team after watching their 2-0 loss in Vancouver last Saturday but as the Fire have learned in the past, it's not so simple to discount the effect of playing on the road in a big opener for the opposing side. This time the task is made all the more daunting with the Canadian club expecting a crowd in excess of 50,000 for their MLS opener at Olympic Stadium.
"We're expecting something louder than Seattle, so it's going to be key to keep that communication on the field," said Gonzalo Segares after training yesterday on Toyota Park's turf practice field. "It's going to be 18 players and the coaches that are travelling against forty-thousand plus people so we've got to stay together as a group, once you're on the field you separate yourself from the crowd. You just have to concentrate and be mentally prepared."
Segares thinks large hostile crowds can work to the Fire's advantage if they keep their composure. "You can see it both ways. As a home team it's definitely got to motivate you but as an opposing team against so many fans you can use that as motivation as well and we're definitely going to use that this Saturday."
Frank Klopas feels it will be key for the club to brace themselves and weather the initial surge from the home team in order to leave Montreal with points. "It's going to be an exciting place for them to play. We're playing on turf so we're just going to have to be ready from the start of the game, we've been playing on turf which has been an adjustment for us this whole week. It's a different feel with the way you pass the ball and the weight of the pass but the energy is going to be very high in the beginning so our focus has to be there from start to end," said Klopas.
As an expansion club Montreal is stocked with numerous MLS veterans although their back line, specifically the centerbacks had a tough go of it in Vancouver. Tyson Wahl and Matteo Ferrari both were beaten for goals and they should find keeping up with Patrick Nyarko and Dominic on a fast track to be extremely difficult. John Brovsky and Josh Gardner were the starters last weekend on the left and right respectively in front of former Galaxy 'keeper Donovan Ricketts.
The Impact midfield lacked any real cohesion last weekend although Davy Arnaud did provide a few individual opportunities. Former Fire winger Justin Mapp, who continues his tour through MLS was coach Jesse Marsch's choice on the right side against the Whitecaps. Patrice Bernier at the holding position and Felipe in the playmaking role don't appear to be much of a threat to the Fire's midfield based on initial performances during First Kick weekend.
Justin Braun and Sanna Nyassi started as the forward tandem last week but Marsch also has Mike Fucito and 35 year old Italian striker Bernado Corradi at his disposal. The former Udinese man has received his ITC and will be available for selection against the Fire.
The big question for the Fire is who gets the start in goal in place of Sean Johnson, who is away with the US U-23 squad. Klopas says he has made a decision but he will not announce it until game time. Both Jay Nolly and Paolo Tornaghi spent time with the first squad during training this week.
The rest of the line-up should be fairly similar to what we've seen over the last few weeks of pre-season with the first choice back line of Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs, and Gonzalo Segares remaining intact.
Klopas said after training on Thursday that Sebastian Grazzini was feeling fine and ready to go for the opener. Pavel Pardo has quickly become a fixture at deep lying position since joining the club last July and Klopas seems to be favoring the combo of Marco Pappa and Logan Pause to complete the midfield. That decision is made a little bit easier since it's possible Rafael Robayo may not be available if his ITC isn't received before Saturday.
Given the difficulty that Montreal defenders experienced last weekend and the fast turf field, Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro will surely be the Fire's forward tandem.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tib tendinitis); DOUBTFUL: DF Austin Berry (R lower leg hematoma)
MONTREAL IMPACT -- OUT: DF Nelson Rivas (L hamstring strain); DF Evan James (high ankle sprain); DOUBTFUL: DF Gienir Garcia (L ankle sprain); DF Hassoun Camara (R quad strain); MF Sinisa Ubiparipovic (MCL); FW Eduardo Sebrango (L groin strain); PROBABLE: FW Justin Braun (R ankle sprain)
Home openers/stadium openers have been a nightmare for the Fire over the last several seasons. Last season's expansion team home lid-lifter in Portland was one of the worst performances of the season in less than stellar conditions. This time the turf will play fast but it will be dry since Olympic Stadium is a domed facility. If the Fire can withstand the initial 15-20 minute surge from the home team amid the atmosphere created by the crowd they should be in good shape to come away with points. The Montreal backline's match-up with the Fire's pace should serve to be the difference.
Fire 1 Impact 0
The Rest of the League
Houston 1 San Jose 1 - Playing at home the Quakes should be able to pick up a point against a Houston team that managed the East's only win last week.
Portland 1 FC Dallas 2 - The Timbers were a different team on the road last season. That same trend will probably continue this year.
New England 0 Sporting KC 2 - Should be another long day for Jay Heaps and company.
New York 1 Real Salt Lake 2 - RSL will probably be without several key players but New York is a mess.
Toronto FC 1 Seattle 2 - After a big win in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, TFC will have to travel out west.
Vancouver 1 Chivas USA 0 - Juan Pablo Angel is likely out, so is Chivas.
Colorado 1 Philadelphia 1 - It will take a while for the young Union side to come together.
DC 1 Los Angeles 2 - The slow start in LA is just that. No reason to panic yet but they need to address the problem at center back without Omar Gonzalez.
Hauptman speaks to the media
Fire owner Andrew Hauptman addressed reporters on Thursday night during the annual media dinner and had a lot of interesting things to say. He covered topics ranging from the television schedule, designated players, season ticket sales, and his hopes for the 2012 season. Here are the highlights:
- He expressed some disappointment in not being able to release the television schedule earlier than it was but explained that he felt the delay was more a result of dealing with the reality of the current market in Chicago rather than a lack of effort on the front office's part. "It's a disappointment but it's the reality of the market and anyone who knows anything about the media and the television landscape in Chicago knows what I'm saying," said Hauptman.
- He pointed to the competitive sports broadcasting market in Los Angeles as a best case scenario that the club in Chicago is not fortunate enough to have. Due to the crowded sports landscape, Hauptman feels it is more difficult to complete negotiations for a soccer television package in this city than most outside of the inner workings imagine it to be.
- He mentioned that season ticket sales were up considerably from where the club was at this time last year. Season ticket sales are up 25% and overall ticket sales are up 33% from this time last year. The club reached an all-time high in season ticket sales in 2011.
- Citing his commitment to the club, Hauptman is footing the cost for the Second Star VIP lounge at Toyota Park.
- The club is open to pursuing big money designated players if the right player comes along that will fit the team's needs. There will be no hesitation on his part to spend money on salaries if the right fit is available and willing to play in Chicago.
- Pointed to Pavel Pardo as a player who he has great admiration for as a professional and as a person. Pardo spoke to Arne Friedrich about joining the club and met him for lunch to discuss Chicago and MLS while Friedrich was in town before signing with the Fire.
- The Fire announced the signing of Tony Walls on Thursday and the rookie defender was genuinely excited to complete his first official day of training as a pro. "As cliche as it sounds, it's everything you dream of. I knew they had seen me when I played PDL here a few years ago. I knew some of the coaches, I knew Matko (assistant coach Mike Matkovich) and Larry (Sunderland) and heard good things about Frank. I'm really excited, I just wanted to come in here and show them I could be a professional soccer player," said Walls.
- Arne Freidrich is expected to arrive in Chicago today and will begin training with the club next week.
- Austin Berry is still recovering from injury but should also be available to return to full training next week.