Another day, another rivalry.
After finally regaining the Brimstone Cup from FC Dallas and losing to the Crew in Columbus last week the Fire will renew hostilities with another long time nemesis, the New England Revolution on Saturday night. A win against the Revolution may help remove some of the sour taste in the mouths of players and supporters following the losses in Columbus and Michigan. Chris Rolfe, who is expected to be available for selection in this match is hoping to make his 2012 debut against an old foe. "It's a big rivalry especially for me. The five years I was here before, we played them so many times in the playoffs and they got the better of us most of the time so there's a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth for that," said Rolfe.
Frank Klopas sees the rivalry picking up steam again due to the revised MLS fixture list which pits Eastern Conference teams against each other with more regularity than in past seasons. "It's a good rivalry," said Klopas. "Now with the way the conferences are, we're playing more teams in the East and with the importance of every game that's going to come back. We lost it a bit over the years but now it's coming back. It's a big match and we look forward to it especially because we have a break for a while before we play again."
New England is in the middle of a rebuilding process with Jay Heaps replacing Steve Nicol behind the bench and quite frankly they've been a little better than expected this season even with their current 4-7-1 record and seventh place standing in the East. Nicol and most of the old guard are gone but goalkeeper Matt Reis remains a starter in front of a shaky defense that has allowed 18 goals this season. They've been particularly bad at defending set pieces but Heaps seems to have settled on a back four consisting of Chris Tierney, AJ Soares, Stephen McCarthy, and Kevin Alston from left to right.
They've added some punch in midfield with Lee Nguyen on the left side and Benny Feilhaber on the right. The middle of the pitch can be exposed however with Shalrie Joseph still a good player but not the destructive force he was several seasons ago. Ryan Guy and Clyde Simms are both likely to miss this match due to injury so Feilhaber may be moved into a central position. If that happens rookie Kelyn Rowe, a regular starter early in the season seems in line to get the call into the eleven.
Heaps uses two forwards with Saer Sene and Blake Brettschneider up top. Sene is on a roll with goals in three consecutive regular season games and a total of 7 on the season. He's the top offensive threat but he's almost exclusively left footed and may cool down once defenses adjust to his style. I thought his addition was underwhelming when they signed him but he's proved big so far.
Most of the Fire's starting eleven has had some time to recover from last week's grind of three matches in 7 days with the exception of Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry who started in Tuesday's Open Cup loss. The Fire have been a little shaky themselves in back even with the current first choice unit in place. Arne Friedrich may help but he's not due back until June 17 against New York. Sean Johnson, Dan Gargan, Gonzalo Segares, Anibaba, and Berry will have to tighten up in order to avoid some of the "silly" goals they've allowed over the last few weeks.
The midfield will be without Marco Pappa, who is away with the Guatemalan National Team. His absence could signal the return of the 4-4-2 formation that Klopas used to start the season particularly if Chris Rolfe is available for this match. Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, and Sebastian Grazzini were all given Tuesday off and should be ready to go for this match. Patrick Nyarko is fighting through an assortment of bumps and bruises but should also be ready with a break coming after this match. If Klopas sticks with the 4-5-1 he's favored of late I'd look for Daniel Paladini to get a chance on the outside. Rafael Robayo is an option but he's better suited as a #8 than he is a wing player.
Dominic Oduro seems to be fully recovered from the hamstring issue that looked to hinder him over the last few games and his pace on turf could be an issue for a Revolution back line that can be beat. Rolfe may see some action in this game but it's not likely to be as a starter. If Klopas goes with two up top the choice between Orr Barouch and Frederico Puppo should be obvious.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); MF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis); DF Arne Friedrich (R hamstring strain)
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: FW Zak Boggs (R ankle sprain); MF Ryan Guy (R calf tightness); DF Flo Lechner (R foot fifth metatarsal fracture); GK Tim Murray (L knee inflammation); MF Sainey Nyassi (R hamstring strain); MF Clyde Simms (L ankle tendonitis); QUESTIONABLE: FW Bjorn Runstrom (R knee inflammation)
New England is tough at home sporting a 3-1-1 record at Gillette Stadium. A win gets them right into the mix for contention in the East and will pull them to within two points of Chicago. Set pieces could play a big role in this match. New England has allowed seven scores from dead ball situations including two in a 3-2 loss to DC United last week. The Fire have also struggled to defend set pieces recently but the Revs aren't particularly good at working them offensively only scoring once all year.
Both clubs are coming off of embarrassing losses in USOC play on Tuesday night.
Fire 2 Revolution 1
- Rafael Robayo participated in an online Q&A session with Terra Colombia and had this to say about possibly returning to Millonarios. "The truth is I have a contract with Chicago until December and any return to Millos would have to go through Chicago right now." Robayo is interested in returning and would rejoin the Colombian club for the same salary he is making now but "it depends on the offer made to Chicago" if he is to return before 2013. He acknowledged that the transition to MLS has been difficult because of the difference in style of play.
- The forecast for this match is 64 degrees with rain/thunder expected at game time. This could play a big role in the decision to play or hold Rolfe back until June 17 although he is no longer listed on the injury report.