The Fire need to get something going offensively and they'll get a good chance to do so against a Vancouver Whitecaps team that is playing their fifth consecutive road game after losing to Toronto FC on Wednesday night. Unfortunately the club will likely be without midfielder Marco Pappa who missed the last two days of training with a throat infection. Whether they want to admit it or not, the loss of Sebastian Grazzini has negatively impacted the Fire's consistency in the final third and now playing without Pappa will make creating quality chances even more difficult.
The Whitecaps are having a solid second season in MLS with an 8-5-6 record placing them fourth in the Western Conference. They've had some scoring issues themselves despite the two goal performance by rookie Darren Mattocks on Wednesday night and recent changes may take some time to gel. Scottish midfielder Barry Robson is still finding his footing after three games and playmaker Davide Chiumiento was transferred to FC Zurich earlier this week. Now Sebastien LeToux has been traded to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for Dane Richards and allocation money. Both sides will be in some flux but Martin Rennie typically favors a tactical approach similar to what the Fire have employed recently with two holding midfielders.
How that changes in this match is anyone's guess with LeToux and Chiumiento now out of the picture. Against Toronto Rennie played Gershon Koffie and Alain Rochat as the holding duo in a 4-2-3-1 but Koffie seems better suited outside and Rochat is a converted defender. Former Fire John Thorrington has started eight games but he is unsurprisingly on the injured list yet again.
They've been decent enough defensively in front of veteran 'keeper Joe Cannon but they did allow three goals in Toronto. Jordan Harvey, Jay DeMerit, Martin Bonjour, and Lee Young-Pyo were the starters from left to right. Rennie will have some juggling to do but so will Frank Klopas without Pappa in the line up.
Klopas doesn't seem concerned with taxing the usual starters with heavy minutes so expect as close to the usual eleven as possible. Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Arne Friedrich, and Gonzalo Segares are sure bets but the right back spot may go back to Dan Gargan after Jalil Anibaba got the start last weekend against Los Angeles.
Without Pappa, the midfield options are a little more difficult to predict. Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, and Patrick Nyarko are consistently starters but replacing Pappa's ability on the outside will be challenging. Chris Rolfe could move outside with Alex slotted into the withdrawn role behind Dominic Oduro. The Fire will need to find out sooner rather than later if Alex can capably fill Grazzini's shoes so this should be a good time to get him into the starting unit.
Jose Carlos Rivero
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); MF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis); QUESTIONABLE: MF Marco Pappa (upper respiratory infection)
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC -- OUT: FW Atiba Harris (R knee surgery recovery); FW Omar Salgado (R foot fracture); DOUBTFUL: MF John Thorrington (R quad strain); MF Matt Watson (R ankle sprain)
These two clubs are almost dead even when it comes down to numbers. The Fire have scored 21 goals while allowing 22 through 18 games. Vancouver has tallied 21 while giving up 22 through 19 games. The Whitecaps are a respectable 3-4-3 on the road and the current streak of four consecutive away matches has yielded a 1-2-1 record during that stretch. The Whitecaps may be running on fumes and the Fire have to capitalize at home with a full week to prepare despite the loss of Pappa for this match.
Fire 1 Whitecaps 0
Another loss or whitewash at home will raise the Grazzini questions again and nobody within the organization will be happy about that.