The Fire will play two of the best teams in MLS over the next 4 days at Toyota Park. After a last minute road victory against Chivas USA on Friday night the club will face a stiffer test which should provide a bit more insight on how good the current version of the Chicago Fire can be this season.
Part one of that test comes on Wednesday night against 2009 MLS Cup Champion Real Salt Lake. Jason Kreis has put together one of the most consistently effective sides in the league over the last three seasons and they figure to make some noise in the Western Conference again in 2012. The Fire may catch a break by missing goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who did not travel to Chicago due to a shoulder injury suffered over the weekend in a match against New England. Kyle Reynish (4 career MLS starts) will get the call in his place. "He's (Rimando) quicker off the line, but the one thing I've seen a little bit (in RSL) is set pieces and they've given opportunities through that," said Frank Klopas when asked to assess the difference between the two keepers. Salt Lake does however boast a center back pairing among the best in MLS with Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers patrolling the area in front of Reynish. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran on the left and right respectively are also solid. Chris Shuler played capably while Borchers missed time due to injury early this season.
With another road match on Saturday night against Western Conference rival Seattle, Kries might consider resting a starter or two but an upcoming bye week may encourage him to push his first choice eleven to get through matches in Chicago and Seattle. They'll be without midfielder Will Johnson due to a red card suspension so it's likely that Johnny Steele, who has scored a couple of big goals for them this season to get the call in his place. Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, and playmaker Javier Morales figure to complete the midfield as they have in the last two matches. Luis Gil has also seen time as a starter.
Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola are both dangerous forwards that will provide a good test for Fire defenders. Paulo Jr. is another option that provides a different look for Kries. Consistent and well coached, RSL is solid in every position and is certainly one of the best teams in the league.
Klopas was reasonably satisfied with the defensive effort against Chivas USA and doesn't seem likely to change up the back four consisting of Gonzalo Segares, Arne Friedrich, Dan Gargan, and rookie Austin Berry. Jalil Anibaba is available after serving a one game red card suspension but it may be difficult to gain his spot back if Berry is able to duplicate his performance against Chivas. "Austin did a very good job. That position is different than the goalkeeper because sometimes guys miss out, (the next) guy comes in, the team does well and you win and it's difficult sometimes to change the team," said Klopas. The rookie defender seems to have impressed enough to earn a second consecutive start. "If Jalil is out for some reason and someone else comes in you feel confident putting him in. It's different than when you're switching goalkeepers because when you make a switch and you feel like you have to stay with the guy," continued Klopas. It's an easier task to switch positional players depending on lack of form but Klopas remains confident in Anibaba despite the apparent selection of Berry. "I'm not saying that's the case with Jalil (lack of form) but he got the red card and missed a game but the team performed well," he said.
Klopas had success with a formation closer to a 4-5-1 against Chivas USA on Friday night and we could see this same tactic deployed against Real Salt Lake. "We felt that with Seba, in order to give him the freedom to have more of a free role and get him higher up the field we played him as a second striker where he's a little more comfortable since he's played there in Argentina," explained Klopas. "Patrick and Marco do better out wide at times and in that game because they had cover behind them, their roles are a little more defined when they can pressure up. When they get it they have opportunities to either cut inside or take guys 1v1".
"With Seba we had some 3v2 (chances) in the middle and I thought we moved the ball well. We were able to switch the point of attack and I think that's also crucial for us against Salt Lake," said Klopas. "They're a very good team. They build from possession, they're very patient, and they have good players".
Whether they come out in a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 alignment there don't seem to be any changes forthcoming in the eleven starters on the field for this match. Klopas will make a determination on whether or not to rest players or change the line up for Saturday depending on how everyone feels on Thursday and Friday at training.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tibialis tendinitis); DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); QUESTIONABLE: FW Chris Rolfe (L ankle sprain)
REAL SALT LAKE -- OUT: FW Cody Arnoux (L adductor strain)
You'd like to win at home but RSL is a tough customer even without Rimando and Johnson.
Fire 1 RSL 1
CJ Brown - ROF
The Fire will induct CJ Brown into the club's Ring of Fire at half time of the match. Brown's family and a host of friends will be in attendance while the Fire honor one of their most revered alumni - on and off the pitch. Jeff Crandall's latest All-In podcast features an interview with Brown.
Rolfe Closer to return
Chris Rolfe did not participate in full training over the last two days but he has resumed jogging as he recovers from the ankle spain suffered on April 19. Klopas is waiting for team doctors to advise him when Rolfe will be available to resume full training before determining when he will be able to play. One thing for certain is that it won't be Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake.
Pappa rounding into form
Marco Pappa has scored twice in the last two matches and had a third goal nullified when Dominic Oduro was ruled to have obstructed a shot from an offside position against Seattle. Pappa believes the team is rounding into form and is looking forward to the match with RSL. "I think the team is gaining more confidence with every match. We're getting more comfortable with each other on the pitch and it's a great opportunity to win at home tomorrow," said Pappa after Tuesday morning's training session.
The Guatemalan midfielder commented on the tactical shift the coaching staff introduced against Chivas noting that it may suit his abilities even better than the previous alignment. "It's different with five in the middle but if it's good for the team the most important thing is to play well and win," said Pappa.
"For me it suits me better because I have the liberty to attack a little more and my strengths are more suited to attacking than defending. But either way if we play well that's all that's important," continued Pappa. "It's different in the way that you work things in the attack but it's still important to follow the scheme that the coach wants".