With the regular season clock ticking down, this one is important.
If the Fire are going to make a move to claim one of the five available Eastern Conference playoff spots they are going to need to start winning against their closest competitors for those positions.
Already having suffered two losses at the hands of the Philadelphia Union in back to back games on May 11 and 18 they'll need maximum points in this one to avoid falling twelve points behind them. The Fire have changed and improved somewhat dramatically since those two matches with the addition of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee so the match-ups will be different this time around. Soumare played his last match with the Union in the May 18 game pushing Jalil Anibaba outside in place of Wells Thompson and Frank Klopas is no longer using the dual holding mid alignment that the Fire deployed for a time this season. In the May 11 game, which the Fire dominated statistically at home Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini paired up ahead of the defenders with Patrick Nyarko playing in the striker spot.
The return leg one week later was tilted more in favor of the Union but the Fire still created a few chances that could have led to a point on the road. They just failed to capitalize on any chances in both earlier matches. In Philadelphia, Pause and Jeff Larentowicz were teamed in the middle of the pitch with Nyarko once again in a forward role. Magee, Chris Rolfe, and possibly Juan Luis Anangonó will provide an entirely different look from what the Union had to face in the first two games.
The Union weren't at full strength defensively for the match in Chicago and Soumare was essentially forced into action by the absence of Jeff Parke before he was dealt to Chicago. John Hackworth has also learned that getting Sebastien LeToux into his starting line-up consistently is probably a good thing. LeToux assisted on both of Jack McInerney's goals against the Fire in those first two games with the first one coming in the 76th minute after entering as a substitute.
Project Line Ups
Johnson; Segares, Berry, Soumare, Anibaba; Duka, Larentowicz, Alex, Nyarko; Rolfe, Magee
MacMath; Gaddis, Parke, Okugo, Williams; Cruz, Farfan, Carroll, LeToux; Casey, McInerney
The Fire will have Sean Johnson back from international duty and the Gold Cup. They'll also benefit from not having Wells Thompson on the pitch at right back like he was in the first two games (although the game at Toyota Park wasn't bad).
Juan Luis Anangonó is expected to be available after receiving his visa on Thursday but don't expect him to start or play significant minutes. Although he's been training for the better part of the last two weeks he's not quite 100% match fit yet.
With the USOC semi-final on Wednesday, Joel Lindpere, Daniel Paladini, or Logan Pause could fit into the line-up but I'm guessing Klopas goes with his best eleven in this one. The Fire need to make a move upward or face the reality of missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
The Union will be without Keon Daniel who was suspended for an incident against Vancouver last weekend. Antoine Hoppenot is dangerous off the bench.
NONE - both Dilly Duka and Alex were listed as questionable earlier this week but both have returned to full training.
Not Updated as of this writing
The Union are sitting in fourth place with a 9-6-7 record and have played better than most thought they would going into the season. A lot of that has to do with McInerney's early season goal scoring pace but they're still a team that can be beaten. They managed to pull a surprising upset last weekend, becoming the first team to defeat Vancouver at home all season on the strength of a dumb eighth minute red card from the Whitecaps' Jun Marques Davidson. Quite honestly, they've punched above their weight all year and the play hasn't exactly been scintillating.
The Fire started to show some form immediately after the last game in Philadelphia with a tie at Real Salt Lake on the subsequent weekend. If Chicago can isolate Patrick Nyarko more often against Raymon Gaddis on the left side of the defense the opportunities should continue to come. Making their outside midfielders work is also important since the middle isn't particularly dynamic.
Berry and Soumare will have their hands full with the attacking trio of McInerney, Conor Casey, and LeToux. The Fire stand a chance to get a result here if they eliminate the carelessness that led to goals in the first two matches.
Fire 2 Union 1
The rest of the league
Sporting KC 2 New York 1
DC United 0 Montreal 1
Colorado 1 Real Salt Lake 2
Houston 2 Columbus 0
San Jose 3 Chivas USA 2
Seattle 2 FC Dallas 1
Portland 2 Vancouver 1
New England 1 Toronto 0
Season record 94/201
ESPN is reporting that a deal to bring Clint Dempsey to Seattle is near.