San Jose has the best record in MLS with 43 points through 22 games. Picking up a result in California will be a tall task for the Fire, who will be playing without Marco Pappa due to yellow card accumulation. The Earthquakes push the game offensively particularly at home where they have outscored opponents 25-12 while amassing a 7-1-2 record this season. There doesn't need to be a warning issued about Chris Wondolowski but they've got other weapons as well. The ever annoying Steven Lenhart and the well traveled Alan Gordon have chipped in to support Wondlowski's 17 tallies with 6 and 9 scores respectively.
Frank Yallop plays with four midfielders but doesn't necessarily have a prototypical central attacker. Instead he chooses to push numbers forward with several interchangeable parts that have performed well this season. Sam Cronin usually occupies the holding role with Marvin Chavez on the right side and either Shea Salinas or Simon Dawkins on the opposite side. Rafael Baca pushes forward from a central location with Khari Stephenson on the bench as an option late. Ramiro Corrales, who Don Garber felt was worthy of an All-Star selection can play in midfield or in back. Yallop has coaxed big numbers out of several players (Chavez has 9 assists and Salinas has 5) but they can be scored upon despite boasting two All-Star starters on the back line. The Fire will catch a break with the speedy Chavez out of action due to a hamstring strain and Cronin also listed as questionable.
Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow were in the starting eleven this past Wednesday against Chelsea but Beitashour is out of this game for the same reason Pappa is. Jed Zayner is expected to get his first regular season minutes of 2012 in place of Beitshour at right back. The centerback pairing in front of John Busch will be Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez. Ike Opara is on the bench so there is depth at this position as well.
Frank Klopas will have some missing pieces of his own. Pappa is out of action and Gonzalo Segares may be as well. The veteran left back suffered a knock in training on Wednesday and could be replaced in the starting eleven by Dan Gargan. Arne Friedrich is back after sitting out one game for a red card so he should return to the middle with Austin Berry thereby pushing Jalil Anibaba out wide once again. Friedrich's experience could prove to be very important against Wondolowski, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Newly acquired Alvaro Fernandez is with team but it may be too soon for considerable minutes in this match. "This happened late, it would be very difficult (for Fernandez to play)," said Frank Klopas. "You have to be realistic. I don't count it out but the most likely scenario is that he's ready to join the team next week and be ready for the home game," he continued.
Sherjill MacDonald is also available but probably won't start. Klopas is likely to stick with the 4-5-1 formation that he's deployed most recently but with Pappa out the Fire will likely continue to struggle offensively unless the pace of Nyarko, Rolfe, and Oduro make the Quakes pay for pushing too many forward. The midfield combination consisting of Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe out wide, and Alex in the hole seems to be the likely choice. The acquisition of Fernandez provides Klopas with options on the wings that could prompt a switch to a 4-4-2 line up depending on situations and opponent but it's not likely to happen this weekend.
The next home game could see Rolfe move up top in a more traditional forward role. "Rolfe's natural position is a guy who comes underneath and finds the game and finds space," said Klopas. "He's not a guy that's going to stay higher up on the pitch and just wait for guys to play the ball. I think he needs to play with another forward to work off of him since he likes to come underneath and get the ball then turn and have space to run at defenders. Maybe at home we play him up there next to another striker," he continued. Rolfe has proven to be an accurate finisher throughout his career but chances have been hard to come by of late. "Maybe at times he drops a little bit too deep but those are things we're working on in training," said Klopas.
Dominic Oduro will continue to start for now but it will be interesting to see what Klopas does at the striker position in the next match particularly if Rolfe is pushed up into a higher position with two front runners.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); QUESTIONABLE: DF Gonzalo Segares (L ankle sprain)
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES -- OUT: MF Marvin Chavez (L hamstring strain); MF Joey Gjertsen (R knee surgery); DF Tim Ward (L non-specific soft tissue injury); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sam Cronin (L hamstring strain); MF Sam Garza (rib fracture)
Despite the gaudy goal totals offensively the Quakes will allow scoring opportunities due to the numbers they push forward. They've allowed 27 goals this season but they are more difficult to beat at home (12 allowed in 10 games). A result here would be a big accomplishment.
Earthquakes 2 Fire 1
Also prepared to be annoyed by Steven Lenhart "Wig Day".
Fernandez and more options
Alvaro Fernandez gives Klopas another player who can play on either wing and is capable of moving forward effectively in the final third. Fernandez could see some minutes in the "Grazzini" role but Klopas seems to prefer Marco Pappa in the spot if needed. "He's (Fernandez) played tucked in more with Seattle when they used a diamond formation but you can always move Marco underneath to play under two strikers so it gives us more flexibility with options if we want to go that way especially at home. Marco's done that before and he can be effective that way," said Klopas. "We have some different options, it just depends. We have some depth up top and out wide with players depending what happens with certain guys," said the Fire head coach.
Transfer Window Closes
The addition of Fernandez and MacDonald combined with the departure of Federico Puppo and Rafael Robayo marked a busy week for the Fire during the secondary window but that mechanism for new player acquisitions is now closed. It seems the Fire are done making moves for the time being. "Right now, as far as guys that are under contract internationally the window closed," said Klopas. "There are guys that are out of contract that are out there that we'll look at it, but at this point in the season it's difficult to make too many changes," he continued.
"The players have worked very hard since preseason to develop good chemistry and understanding and I think at this point with the two players we brought in - MacDonald we had followed before and we had him in camp training with us before and he's adapted well and with Fernandez, he's someone that knows the league and that position is always easier. We'll see if there are any opportunities out there with players who are out of contract but we don't want to be in a situation to make too many changes and disrupt the work that we've put in from the beginning with the group," said Klopas. It doesn't sound like there are many big moves in the foreseeable future.
The Fire also looked at Dutch midfielder Gianluca Nijholt but this article claims that the player turned down a three year contract from the club citing an offer that wasn't high enough.