Everyone will have to wait at least another week to witness Chris Rolfe's re-introduction to the Chicago Fire. The oft-injured forward picked up an ankle knock during training on Thursday morning and will not be available for this match. Rolfe's injury is considered minor but it may keep him out for up to two weeks.
Frank Klopas won't have his newest weapon available for selection against a Toronto side that has been woeful all season (with the exception of a run in CONCACAF Champion's League action) going 0-5-0 in league play. During those 5 matches they've been outscored 10-2. Not a pretty picture for coach Aron Winter, who has come under scrutiny from fans and media in Toronto. Playing the Dutch style of "total football" sounds like a good idea but the realities of MLS may not allow Winter to implement the style he wants to play.
Injuries have played a role in their struggles with German DP Torsten Frings appearing only in the opener this season. Frings is set to make his return in this match but there are still questions about where he'll play and what formation they'll use. Winter seems to prefer a 3-4-3 with Frings in a central holding role but the lack of depth and quality in the back may force him to move Frings into a centerback spot. Adrian Cann returned from injury to play well last weekend in a home loss to Chivas USA but Miguel Aceval has been downright bad. "I am a midfield player but in my opinion it is better for the team if I play in the backline at the moment," Frings told Toronto media this week. If Winter does decide to move Frings back, he'll likely team with Cann and Ty Harden although playing a 3-4-3 with the players they have available in midfield is likely asking for a heap of trouble against a Fire attack that is best contained by playing deep and throwing bodies into midfield. Winter has also deployed versions of a 4-3-3 formation this season and tends to play a high line/offside trap with his defenders. This would be a recipe for a sixth consecutive loss if he tries it.
With Frings away from the holding spot Toronto has relied on Terry Dunfield to man the position with little success. Dunfield is a weapon on set pieces but lacks the pace, mobility, and vision to play in the system Winter is looking to succeed with. Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley are typically the players on the outside and could move into starting spots at right and left back if Winter decides to go with a four man back line. Luis Silva and Julian De Guzman, who has been a bust as a DP are also options in midfield. Toronto has also played a variation of a 4-5-1 formation with Dunfield and De Guzman in dual holding roles. This would make the most sense but they are without target man Danny Koevermans for this match.
The crafty Joao Plata can cause problems with his pace and skill but there isn't much else in terms of creativity going forward. Ryan Johnson is a solid MLS journeyman who may move into the center forward spot with Eric Avila or Reggie Lambe filling in as attackers. Nick Soolsma, another attacker who has seen significant playing time this season will miss this match with a hamstring injury.
Milos Kocic is now the starter in goal filling in for Stefan Frei, who is out for an extended period of time with a leg injury.
The Fire won't have Rolfe available so the customary line-up should remain intact. Sean Johnson has apparently reclaimed his starting spot in goal. The backline will surely feature Gonzalo Segares, Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, and Dan Gargan. If Anibaba and Friedrich stay away from the types of communication mistakes that cost them a goal against Houston last Sunday, Toronto should find a hard time generating chances.
The midfield and forward spots won't change either. Pappa, Pardo, Grazzini, and Pause in midfield with Nyarko and Oduro up top should round out the eleven. Without Rolfe in the mix this weekend, we're left to speculate on how Klopas will utilize him once he's healthy. I wrote earlier this week that I believed Pappa should be the odd man out if Rolfe starts at forward but the reality may be that Nyarko moves to the bench and is used as a 60th minute substitution that can create havoc with different combinations on the field when defenses have presumably tired.
The key will be a good start and maintaining possession. TFC is not particularly good with the ball and Grazzini should find some room to operate against Dunfield/De Guzman if Winter insists on a 3-4-3. The home team will need to be very conservative without Koevermanns up top and attempt to clog things up by slowing the pace down.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tibialis tendinitis); DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus tear); FW Chris Rolfe (ankle)
TORONTO FC -- OUT: FW Nicholas Lindsay (L knee surgery recovery); DF Dicoy Williams (R knee surgery recovery); DF Jeremy Hall (sports hernia surgery recovery); GK Stefan Frei (L lower leg); MF Nick Soolsma (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: MF Torsten Frings (R hamstring strain)
This game seems like it should be a win but the Fire's history in Toronto hasn't exactly been stellar, going 2-3-1 in six previous trips. Playing on the road is never easy and Toronto should be desperate to gain a result. Frings is vitally important to their system and they should see a boost with his return.
Toronto appears to be in disarray but this could be a trap game if the Fire don't start the match with a foot firmly planted on the pedal.
Fire 1 Toronto FC 1
The Rest of the League
Houston 0 Columbus 0 - Brad Davis is still out as the Dynamo continue to play on the road. The Crew make me drowsy.
Los Angeles 2 Colorado 1 - Too much talent in LA to continue to languish in the West.
FC Dallas 0 Vancouver 1 - Whitecaps should find easier going at home after a loss to Sporting on Wednesday night.
Sporting KC 1 Portland 2 - The Wiz will face another test with their third game in seven days. Portland is a tough place to play. Vancouver started to do some damage against their defense late in that match. 7-1 ain't bad.
Philadelphia 0 Chivas USA 1 - The goats are 0-3-0 at home and due for a result in California. Don't expect a lot of fireworks in this one.
Real Salt Lake 2 San Jose 1 - The Earthquakes have been a surprise so far but RSL is still a better team even if they're not at full strength.
New York 3 DC 2 - The Red Bulls will score but give up plenty of chances on the defensive end. If you like bad defense this could be the game for you.