The Fire look to go into a bye week on a winning note as they host Chivas USA on Sunday. Forecasts are predicting it to be a cold and snowy afternoon in Chicago. Will we see a Fire "W" or a Fire goal or even the appearance of the yellow ball? Let's hope all 3 happen as Frank and company look to send Chivas back to LA with zero points
Last week we saw the Fire go into a defensive shell with few offensive opportunities, yet Frank's boys were able earn a point in Kansas City. That point came at the result of basically sitting back and taking wave after wave of Sporting Kansas City attacks. At the end of the game the Fire finished with 1 shot on target and only 27% of the possession over the 90 minutes. I will give them credit being able to take a point from a very good SKC in their house. It still worries me that the offense has not found the back of the net yet though.
This week the Men in Red return home to face a completely new Chivas USA team. The management has decided to try to reshape the image of the team into a more American/Mexican image. Gone are many of the players that squared off against the Fire in Toyota Park in 2012. There are still key players left from the 2012 squad, like Dan Kennedy and Juan Agudelo, but most of the players we will see on Sunday are brand new to the team and the league. This could be one of those games in which the toughest team will walk away with all 3 points.
Both teams have been going in different directions since week one. The Fire have yet to score a goal and have only managed 6 total shots on goal in the 3 games they have played. The only other team in the league with less is New England, who beat us at home in week 2. Chivas on the other hand suffered a terrible loss in week 1 but have responded well from that loss to manage a win against FC Dallas in week 2 and a comeback tie against the Galaxy in week 3 despite playing a man down for over 45 minutes. Something has to give on Sunday. Will the Fire change their offensive woes despite with weather (high of 35 and possible snow showers) to manage to get their first "W" of the season or will Chivas continue their good run of form? Let's take a look at how I think the teams will look:
Chivas lineup has been consistent over the last 2 games, so here is who I think we will see on Sunday afternoon:
The Fire will be without some of their starters as Sean Johnson has been called up to the USMNT, Joel Lindpere has been called up to the Estonian National Team, Arne Friedrich is still recovering from injury, and Mike Videira is out with a concussion. Additionally, Steve Kinney is out with an knock he acquired as well. Here is how I see the Fire lining up:
Frank pulled out his favorite 2 defensive midfielder formations last week versus Sporting Kansas City and played a very defensive orientated game. This was due to playing SKC at home in their home opener. I think that Frank will probably revert back to playing a more defensive game and look to get the offense going on counter attacks. This system worked up until the end of 2012, and since his new 4-4-2 did not work so well in the first couple games, Frank may go back to what he relied on so heavily in 2012. I don't think he has any other choice but to play this formation due to the personnel that will be missing for this match.
Chivas on the other hand will probably look to play a quick attacking game. Their new coach, Jose Luis Sanchez Sola (Chelis), has used a 4-4-2 for the first 2 games and a 3-4-3 for their last game. The 4-4-2 did not work for them in the first game of the season but did work against Dallas in the second game, which was likely a result of the players that he had chosen to play. Sola on the other hand went with a 3-4-3 last week against the defending champions. When we played the Galaxy we lost 4-0, but Chivas was able to pull out a tie even though playing a man down for over half the game. Chelis was able to make the proper adjustments in order to gain that point against the Galaxy.
- Frank Klopas vs. Chelis- This is going to be a key matchup throughout the match on Sunday. Chelis showed last week that he can make adjustments to his team that will get the job done. After Velazquez received the red card in the 40th minute, Chelis went ahead and made the necessary changes at halftime that kept them in the game against the Galaxy. Frank, in my opinion, goes in with a game plan and sticks with that game plan as long as possible. He has trouble adjusting to the way the game is playing. For example, so far in every game this year he has played primarily a counter attacking style which has led to the Fire's defense being pressured all too much. He does not like to apply high pressure against opposing teams (see the New England game as an example). Sometimes this style works but I think when played too much the Fire become all too predictable. Let's see which coach can make adjustments during the game to favor their team's chances for taking all 3 points.
- Chris Rolfe vs. Jaoquin Velazquez- This will be a matchup to watch closely. Velazquez is 37 years old and this is his first season in a professional soccer league since 2010. If Rolfe's fitness is better than Velazquez's than he should have the upper hand late in the game. After not playing for 3 years, Velazquez may be starting to feel the rigors of playing every week and he may fatigue early in the 2nd half.
For Chivas, their wildcard is Chelis. That's right, the coach. One week he goes from calling out the players after the horrible loss to the Crew to saying that the team earned 100 points in a tie against the Galaxy. Also add the 3-1 win against Dallas sandwiched in between. He is a loose cannon but apparently knows what he is doing having followed a blowout loss with 2 good performances.
For the Fire the wildcard that can help bring momentum their way is the player that scores the first goal of the season. Having played 3 games and not scoring a single goal can be deflating to any team. Once that first goal is scored, the team's confidence will be boosted, which is desperately needed. Especially when it happens in your home stadium.
This is a battle of two teams heading in different directions. The Fire are coming off a performance where they were dominated in every aspect of the game but stood tough defensively to earn a point in Kansas City. Chivas went down a man late in the first half against LA and looked to have lost when the Galaxy scored in the 83rd minute, but were able fight back and tie with a late goal. The question is which teams will show up on Sunday in Toyota Park? If the Fire can replicate the defensive form shown last week and can get something going offensively they can possibly win this game. The only problem is that Chivas is playing good soccer at the moment and their spirits are high coming off an inspired game versus the Galaxy. But this will be the week that the Fire finally get their first "W" of the season with strong defensive play and a couple of goals to get their offense going (with a little help from the weather affecting the visiting team). Fire win 2-0, with goals from Paladini and Santos. So far I have not picked any game right so hopefully that changes this week. If we somehow do not pick up points versus Chivas there are going to be a lot of questions about this team and staff being raised. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.