KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 09: A general view of the inside of LiveStrong Sporting Park prior to the innaugural game between the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City at LiveStrong Sporting Park on June 9, 2011 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
There has to be a little bit of concern heading into this match. The Fire haven't been all too impressive on the road, and Sporting has to be dying for the chance at redemption after getting completely turned out in Philadelphia last weekend. To top it off, all of this is going down at Sporting StrongPark Live...or whatever it's called, where Sporting is 6-1-0 on the season.
This is a big game. Sporting needs to keep pace with New York and D.C. The Fire need to keep ahead of the quagmire in the middle of the Eastern Conference table. Frank Klopas has a couple of decisions to make regarding the roster ahead of this one. We are not going to be seeing the same starting XI that we're use to. I can't remember the last time I've been this anxious to see a lineup leading up to a Fire match.
Chris Rolfe to Start?
It's certainly a possibility. Sebastian Grazzini is staying back in Chicago according to Frank, and someone needs to fill that role. There's been a lot of speculation as to whether Rolfe will start, or if the latest acquisition, Alex, will get his first start in his very first match. It's not far fetched to say that Alex could get the nod. He was around camp in preseason and even saw some preseason in-game action, so he's probably logged almost as much time training with the team as Rolfe has.
I still think Rolfe gets the start. Alex has not played a competitive match in over a month. I'm not sure how physical the Swiss Challenge League is, but I'm sure it's not as physical as Major League Soccer. Considering how physical Sporting Kansas City is and how big this game is, it might be foolish to give Alex the start without any prior MLS experience. With Rolfe, we know what we're going to get. I can see Alex coming in as a sub if the situation is right.
Arne Friedrich to Return?
With Gonzalo Segares out due to suspension, and Arne making his first appearance last weekend since he was injured, it's pretty much a given that Arne will be starting. Most likely, Arne will start next to Autsin Berry, which will strengthen the center of the defensive line. If Arne doesn't start, I'd be surprised.
Gonzalo Segares's Suspension
With Sega out, Dan Gargan is going to be moved over to left back. Frank Klopas has a few options open to him for filling Gargan's spot at right back. Assuming that Arne Friedrich does start, Frank could have Jalil Anibaba take over right back. This would keep two of the best defenders available in the lineup, and Jalil has spent some time at right back, so he wouldn't be in too unfamiliar territory. This is probably the most likely scenario.
Frank could also move Logan Pause to right back and either Daniel Paladini or Rafael Robayo can take the vacant midfield spot. If Frank did choose to go this route, I imagine that we would see Paladini because of his physicality. Robayo might get torn up in this one.
Sporting Kansas City has 3 forwards who all stand at 6'1" or more, and so they like to send in crosses when they have the chance. Seth Sinovic/Michael Harrington and Chance Meyers like using their speed on overlapping runs down the flanks to send crosses in. The best way to defend this type of attack is by defenders using their bodies to deflect the crosses. Because of this, Sporting Kansas City leads the league in corner kicks with 97. When it comes to corner kicks, Sporting can bring Aurelien Collin (6'2"), Lawrence Olum (6'2") and Julio Cesar (6'1") to the party.
Set pieces have been a weak spot for the Fire all season. Last week, Columbus had a number of second chances off of corner kicks from poor clearances by the Fire. Less than two weeks ago, Dax McCarty (all 5'9" of him) managed to get loose and head a corner past Sean Johnson. Tonight, Graham Zusi, who is one of the most accurate kickers in the league, will be lining up over the ball, and he will have a number of big targets to hit. Every set piece is going to be nerve wracking.
Did you know that, despite the big name offensive weapons, Sporting has only scored 20 goals this season? You know who else has scored 20 goals? Chicago. Both teams are tied on goals in the league with Houston and New England. With that in mind, I'm predicting a 0-0 draw and I'd be happy with that.