Another season, same old rivalry. Saturday night the Fire host long time rivals New England in a game that can really set the tone of the season for both teams. Over the years we have seen some epic matches between these two teams. Who could forget the 2009 first round playoff series between the two teams where New England took their home leg 2-1? And when it came to the leg in Toyota Park, the Men in Red took care of business and won 2-0 to advance to the Conference Finals. My favorite match between these two rivals has to be the 2003 Conference Final when, tied 0-0 going into extra time, Fire Captain Chris Armas scored the golden goal to send the Fire to the MLS Cup Final. OK, Enough of looking back, time to look forward to Saturday.
New England comes into the game being the odd team out in the league, having not played on opening weekend. They will have that extra week of rest behind them as they look to come into Toyota Park and ruin the Fire's home opener. The Fire on the other hand come back home after being thoroughly outplayed by the Los Angeles Galaxy in what turned out to be the highest score line (4-0) on opening weekend in MLS play. New England will be looking at this game as a chance to get the season started on the right foot, while the Fire look to avoid a two game losing streak and a chance to right the ship before heading to Kansas City the following week to face one of the heavyweights in the Eastern Conference.
Since New England has not played a game yet this season, based on what their roster looks like to start the season, here is my best guess at what their starting lineup will be:
Chicago on the other hand already played one game this season, so there should be no guessing when it comes to a starting lineup. Based on the debacle in Los Angeles and possible injury situations that were not made public until the starting lineups were announced, here is how I think that Chicago will start the game:
I don't think that Friedrich will be back to replace Kinney on the backline. Apparently he has re-aggravated his nagging hamstring injury. Pause is not in the lineup either but I still think that Anibaba is a better choice at right back. Pause will also be coming back from injury as well so that could effect things. There is a chance that Frank might shift Anibaba to Kinney's spot and slide Pause into right back if healthy. The midfield will more than likely stay the same barring any fresh injuries. I would think that Frank will slide Sherjill MacDonald back up front to pair with Rolfe instead of going with Santos. Santos played well last week but does not have the abilities that MacDonald brings to the table. I think that Sherjill's ability to hold the ball up will allow others to make those attacking runs off the ball.
Back in October when these two teams last met, Jay Heaps used the same tactics that Bruce Arena used this past Sunday. That was taking the center mid out of the game and applying a high pressure against the Fire's backline. In October the Revolution took Chris Rolfe out of the game and applied the high pressure against the backline and the Fire couldn't create much. The Galaxy did the same thing on Sunday and despite a couple of great chances by the Fire that missed putting them ahead, the Galaxy thoroughly outplayed the Fire by taking Joel Lindpere out of the game and applying a high pressure against the back four. Frank Klopas has to learn how to adjust when teams play this kind of system against us, otherwise the rest of the league will know how to play us and we will not be a playoff contender.
- Bengston/Fagundez/Toja vs. The Fire back four: Not to dwell on last Sunday, but if that was any indication of how good our defense is they will once again have their hands full with the attacking trio of Jerry Bengtson, Diego Fagundez, and Juan Toja. The Fire miss out on facing New England's 2012 leading scorer Saer Sene due to injury, but the Fire's back four will still have their hands full. Bengtson is just now showing up on the world's stage after scoring the game winner versus the US National Team while playing for Honduras. Fagundez scored against us last season and he has a nose for goal and the ability to create plays. With Toja you get a creative mid that can provide space and through balls for the forwards to latch on to. It is crucial for the Fire's back four to stop the trio of the Revs in order for a chance at taking all 3 points.
- Cisse versus Lindpere: Last week we saw the Galaxy effectively take out Lindpere from all aspects of the game and the Fire suffered because of it, as mentioned previously. The Fire became too one dimensional and started going through the wings in order to try to generate any form of attacks. It won't get any easier for Lindpere this week as he is going to go up against newly acquired Kalifa Cisse. Cisse brings plenty of top European league experience and will know how to shut down attacking mids like Lindpere.
For the Revolution, I will go with Lee Nguyen. He can bring a creative spark to any team and will provide energy as well as speed to a tired attack throughout the match. He had some good showings in 2012 that led to him playing in 30 games and starting 27 of them. For the Fire I am once again going with Yazid Atouba. When he entered the game last week as a second half substitute he showed that he has the necessary skills and fight that will suit this team well. I have high hopes for him and can see him challenging Duka for the starting role by the time September/October rolls around.
Frank and company need a good showing on Saturday, period. After the debacle last week in LA, the Fire need to rebound and start getting some momentum heading in to a tough month of games. After New England, the Fire face 3 teams that will be battling them for a playoff spot over the next 4 games. It is imperative that the Fire come out and force the game against the Revolution and not allow New England to apply high pressure. If the Fire cannot get at least a point on Saturday then people will start asking question about this team and the management that assembled it. I still think the Fire come out on top in this one 2-1. Fire goals by Nyarko and Berry. Bengtson with the lone goal for the Revs. Despite the score line this will be a hard fought game and with a lot of physical battles in the middle of the park.