The task will be a bit taller for Chicago as they will be missing LB Gonzalo Segares and Head Coach Frank Klopas due to red cards from the KC game. Despite this, the Fire are the better side and are absolutely dominating East opponents at home. This is definitely a game where the Fire need and should get all 3 points. This would move us back within 2 points of first place Sporting KC. Additionally, it would vault us back ahead of the Red Bulls and into 2nd place again. This sets up the table for another huge matchup Saturday afternoon when the Fire travel to New York to face the Red Bulls for the last time this MLS season. Let's not put the cart before the horse though. I expect the Fire to come out motivated, excited, and look to put in a goal or two early and not let up.
Going back to Segares missing, it is one of the few positions where the Fire don't have a lot of depth. Rookie Hunter Jumper is behind Sega on the depth list, but he just hasn't played enough to be inserted as a starter into a late season game like this. I see the Fire inserting Dan Gargan at LB. This would make the most sense and get Gargan on the pitch again for a large chunk of playing time. This would be especially beneficial heading into the playoffs as a veteran like Dan can help any team. And, should we have any injuries (knock on wood that we don't), Dan will at least have some recent playing time under his belt. Plus I am still in the camp that Gargan should be playing in place of Jalil at RB anyway. Although Mark O'Rourke had this excellent article (in case you missed it) in favor of Jalil over Gargan, I think we should take a look at Gargan starting at RB again.
The hot Fire offense (although cooled slightly from KC) will go against a surprisingly stout Union defense. They are tied with the Fire for Goals Allowed at 36 (trailing only SKC, Seattle, and RSL respectively). So this may not be the cake walk many people are thinking. However, I still think the Fire offense has the tools to net multiple goals tomorrow night. One key to the game may be young Zac MacMath. While he is still viewed by most with a very high upside, he is certainly going through growing pains. Our own Sean Johnson is still in this phase as well, but Sean is polished enough now that he is really starting to shine. Zac is not there yet. A costly error or two by him is something that definitely has a chance of happening. If it does, the Fire must find a way to capitalize on the chance.
I mentioned during the SKC game that the Fire are hurt by having early chances and not taking them. Look at the KC game for example. Chris Rolfe had an excellent look but just pushed his shot wide. A few minutes later Zusi scored a great goal to really knock the wind out of the Fire's sails. Just like that, in what could have been a 1-0 Fire lead early (which would have really quieted the home crowd down), the Men in Red were instead behind to a team with a stifling defense in their house. That's all water under the bridge now. But, the idea still remains. If the Fire can create a great chance or two early, we need to take 1 of them. An early goal at home would really get the crowd going, and it would allow us to push for another goal that could really put the Union away. This is something that has plagued us all year, and missed chances are what separates the MLS Cup contenders from pretenders.
The other big point I will be monitoring is who concedes the first goal. I know this is beating a dead horse, bringing back to life, killing it, and beating it again. Giving up the 1st goal has plagued the Fire all year. Fortunately we have a resilient team that never gives up and fights to the death. However, this is simply not a trend that we can continue to employ and make work. We have done well to come from behind to win as much as we have, but that luck runs out eventually. It hurt us in KC, and it will hurt us in the playoffs if we keep conceding the first goal. San Jose is the same way. They have scored a stupid amount of stoppage time goals, but it's not a formula that will work well to win an MLS Cup. I will be looking for the Fire to score first and pile the pressure on the Union.
Teams like Philly (or any team eliminated from the playoffs) are always more dangerous at the end of the year. Although they won't have the playoffs to fight for, no matter the sport, teams enjoying playing the role of spoiler. Letting the Union lie around tomorrow and not putting them away could cost us vital points in our own playoff race. We have done well to get results against lesser teams so far this year, and another win would do wonders in getting our confidence back and priming us for the big matchup with New York Saturday.
I will be back with a Fireside Chat either tonight or sometime tomorrow ahead of the match. As always, we will have a gamethread for you to join as well. We got some new faces last time and had some fun (except for the Fire losing part). We hope you join us tomorrow, and let's go Fire!
I am predicting a 2-1 Fire win. McInerney with the goal for Philly, and Flaco and Rolfe for the Fire.