AND IT IS ALL TO PLAY FOR. As always. As usual. Chicago's quest for an improbable come-from-behind end of the season enters its final stage today, when Toronto FC visits Toyota Park at 7:30 p.m. A win - the Fire's third on the trot - could lock up a playoff spot for the Men in Red; any other result, at home against an opponent of this caliber, must be considered a loss, as well as potentially disastrous for the postseason outlook.
The good news is that the Reds from Canada have nothing to play for save pride. Eliminated two months ago from playoff contention, Toronto will field a team playing for their jobs as individuals, while the Fire will take the pitch as a unit. For cf97 this game will be adjudged by a single statistic: the final score.
Ryan Nelson will be missing two players due to suspension, flank player Jeremy Hall and keeper Joe Bednik, and have his usual suspects out for injury, Danny Koevermans and arguably their best player, Matias Laba. This means that, compared to his lineup two weeks ago, that Reggie Lambe will probably be in the midfield and Stefan Frei will be between the posts, which can be significant. Also, Bright Dike, acquired in a trade from Portland, is now healthy, adding his pronounced physicality to a lineup that otherwise could be a bit lightweight.
Here is what we might see on Saturday night:
Frank will have an entire roster to choose from for this one. Look for Egidio Arévalo Rios to slide back into the middle of the park in place of Alex. Should Dilly Duka fail to recover fitness in time for kickoff, Alex could slide into the left wing, where Chris Rolfe and Joel Lindpere are other options. Frank to go with the usual suspects in the other positions. This is what cf97 will more than likely be playing:
- Fire's offense vs. Stefan Frei - So what do you do with goalie who hasn't seen a minute of MLS action in almost two seasons, and who took an entire year off due to injury? You shoot as much as possible. If I'm Frank Klopas before the game, I would be telling my midfield and forwards that if you are within 25 yards of goal and have a good look, take that shot. Frei is definitely going to have some butterfingers to deal with after almost 2 seasons - playing in reserve games is not the same as playing in an MLS regular season match. This could be just what players like Anangonó and Duka were looking for; Anangonó has that powerful quick shot that we have seen from time to time, and Duka is like Marco Pappa, unafraid to shoot if he has a good look on goal.
- Fire vs. themselves - The last time that these teams met, the Fire were strong favorites to go into Toronto to take all three points. Chicago took an early lead, Toronto equalized shortly after, and then the game ground into an ugly mess. It seemed on that Wednesday the soccer gods were playing an awful trick on us supporters by giving us an awful game. The Fire played down to their opponents that game; if they want to put themselves in pole position for a playoff spot, they have to be better. A repeat of last week's effort should be more than enough to take all three points from a TFC team that is bound to finish in the bottom three in the league. On the other hand, if cf97put forward the type of effort they had versus DC a couple weeks ago - where they gave up 70% of the possession to the opposition and coughed up plenty of good chances - then it will be a very difficult task to take all three points.
For TFC I'll go with Álvaro Rey. In his first few months in MLS, he has shown the ability to create for TFC, and he can also disrupt the opposing attack from time to time. Look for him to provide service to Dike and Earnshaw as well as play a similar style as Duka, cutting in towards the center to try to get a better look on goal.
For the Fire, Mike Magee will be that catalyst that the team needs for this type of game. In the running for the Golden Boot, he would surely love to score a couple in hopes that the Fire can secure a playoff spot this weekend. He loves these type of games, and has shown he craves the pressure of pushing his team to a result. He definitely showed this in the past couple seasons with the Galaxy by becoming an influential player when LA was in those pressure situations. Imagine how nuts Toyota Park will be if Magee was able to score a couple goals tonight.
With six points picked up in the last two weeks, cf97 once again have a potential playoff spot in their hands. It's very simple: Win Saturday, and you have a chance at clinching a spot if other results go their way. Hopefully, we see some consistency from this team. After two straight weeks of scoring three goals per game, we should expect the same from Chicago versus a bad Toronto team. This week I'm going with a Fire win versus Toronto, 3-0 the final scoreline with Magee getting the hat trick. Unfortunately I think the Fire's playoff aspirations will not be known until the final weekend of the season when they travel to New Jersey to take on the Redbulls. But hopefully I'm wrong about that.
- Last week on cf97's anniversary it was announced that the Freddie Christiano "Heart on Your Sleeve" jersey will be the 3rd jersey for the Fire next season for the October 8th game. At first, I thought it an interesting change, but then I saw the 2-tone badge and thought "No way." You can't change the badge because that is what the team is known for. But I guess if people voted for it then that's what the people wanted.
- I know this is about the Sounders but give it a watch. Jeffrey Hayzlett travelled to Seattle to talk to the Sounders ownership to find out why they are a success in the MLS off the field. I thought it was pretty interesting that almost everything that the ownership and management does always includes the fans. Having 32K season tickets sold is an accomplishment that I think other teams around the league can learn from.