With 17 games already played, tonight's game against Chivas USA represents the beginning of the second half of the 34 game season for the Chicago Fire. A win and everything else going Chicago's way tonight would inconceivable put the Fire in the last qualification spot for the MLS Playoffs leading into Sunday, July 3rd. In itself that doesn't mean much because a couple of other teams have games in hand and there are a host of other issues but it is an encouraging fact that demonstrates the Fire are not that far behind. More thoughts on Chivas USA and in game comments after the break.
Chivas USA enters tonight's game on a downward spiral having lost 3 games in a row after coming out of the gates with a modest 4-4-5 record. It's a new look Chivas USA and different from the one the Fire dismantled 4-1 on October 23, 2010 to end the season. Jonathan Bornstein is playing for Tigres de la UANL in Mexico. Mariano Trujillo is playing a backup role this year. Zach Thornton has lost his starting goalkeeper job to Dan Kennedy. Even regulars in 2010 and 2011 Ante Jazic and Ben Zemanski might not play tonight due to injury. Chivas USA will still put out a strong side thanks to the successful additions of MLS veterans Heath Pearce and Nick LaBrocca along with MLS rookie Zarek Valentin. LaBrocca has especially benefited from moving over to Chivas USA as his 3 goals are already a career high. The eyes of the Chivas fanbase will be on Justin Braun as he looks to build on his goal last week against Philadelphia. Braun almost single handily defeated the New York Red Bulls on May 15th when he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 Chivas USA victory but outside of that and last week's game, Braun is goalless.
The Fire's defensive set should continue to be Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, and Gonzalo Segares. In the midfield, Logan Pause will make his return tonight wearing a light leather helmet to help with his recent concussion issues. Daniel Paladini is suspended for this game due to yellow card accumulation but Frank Klopas has been starting Baggio Husidic in every game since Columbus so Paladini's suspension might not even matter. I don't think Husidic has shown enough to not give Corben Bone a start to see what he can do at least but it's all up to Klopas. On the wings, Chicago will return to the bread and butter of Patrick Nyarko on the right and Marco Pappa on the left. Up top, it's anyone's guess as Diego Chaves, Dominic Oduro, Orr Barouch, and Cristian Nazarit appear to be in a wild battle for starts at forward. Cristian Nazarit might be the freshest of the bunch despite playing a full 90 minutes on Tuesday vs. Rochester. The Colombian striker hasn't played in a MLS match since June 18th after getting suspended for two games for allegedly attempting to a punch a New England Revolution player. Diego Chaves has not looked very energetic recently and he played a full 90 on Tuesday as well. On the other hand, Chaves did score the lone goal in the game against Rochester so Klopas might play the hot hand. Oduro has looked better playing in the midfield on the wing and Barouch has looked better as a substitute instead of a starter but Oduro only played 15 minutes on Tuesday and Barouch did not feature at all. I will say that it looks like Klopas has paired Chaves/Nazarit together and put Oduro/Barouch as second team. Given the long stretch the team had in June and the consistency Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko provide on the wings, look for Oduro and Barouch to start up top with Chaves and Nazarit making early substitutions.
Tonight's matchup features two teams that are fairly even. The summer heat might be getting to a Chivas USA team that leans on the veteran side. With Chicago's youth and confidence from Tuesday's win showing, I think the Fire will come away with their second road win of the year: 2-1. For even more of a preview, check out the Three Questions exchange and for comments on anything and everything, simply type away below.