Same opponent, different week, and different city. On Saturday Chicago faces the Union at PPL Park after the 2 teams played to a 1-0 Union win a week ago at Toyota Park. Last week the Fire dominated the Union in every statistical category throughout the match, except in the most important category which is goals scored. It took one mental lapse to allow McInerney to slip in between defenders to latch on to a quickly taken Sebastian Le Toux free kick. McInerney slotted the ball past Sean Johnson for the only goal of the game. The Fire had numerous chances to score, but it was the same old story of creating chances and not being able to finish. This inability to finish has meant that the Fire have only scored 6 times this season and this has got to change quick.
Philadelphia entertained the LA Galaxy during midweek, which means that some of the Union players may be a little exhausted (especially since this Saturday's match will be their 3rd in 7 days). LA came into PPL Park and showed that the Union defense can be taken apart as the Galaxy were able to put 4 past John Hackworth's Union. This is a must win game for the Fire as they sit 8 points out of the playoff spots and if they lose to the Union it will make it 11 points out. Unfortunately at this point in the season, every game is really a must win for the Fire.
Since the Union will be operating off tired legs, I expect some of the starters that played against the Galaxy to get a rest Saturday. Hackworth only made 2 changes to his starting XI from Saturday's game versus the Fire compared to the starting XI versus the Galaxy on Wednesday, so here is a wild guess at how they will lineup if Hackworth sticks with his normal starters:
Since Frank has stated he plans on using Rolfe and Nyarko up top again as he did for last week's meeting with Philly, I would assume chances will again be created. However, we still have to finish those chances and we have struggled with that all year. I think this forward pairing works better than having MacDonald up front but still it won't be the finished forward line because, let's face it, Nyarko is not a striker. We still need to bring in a striker during the next transfer window, but that's all for another story. Larentowicz also comes back from suspension and he will look to take Paladini's place in the starting XI. Other than that I don't see Frank making any changes:
Since we are playing the same team as last week I don't want to repeat myself. McInerney (if he starts) is the one that is going to garner most of the attention from the Fire back line, as we saw last week. Same with the battle in the middle of the field but this week I think that the Fire have the upper hand with Larentowicz returning to the lineup next to Pause. There is one key matchup I would like to point out though:
- Fire's forwards vs. themselves- Yes it sounds kind of cliché but right now they are battling themselves. Through 9 games the entire team has only scored 6 goals, with 3 of those coming from the forward crew. The only way that the Fire forwards are going to find the back of the net is if they start finishing their chances. Last week there were numerous chances that should have been put away and right now not putting those chances away are killing morale as well as results. It's tough to be confident when it seems like you can do nothing right. If they continue to miss chances it will just make it worse and this team cannot afford to drop any more points because of missed chances. It's a painful dilemma to be mired in.
Last week I had said that Le Toux is the Union's wild card coming in off the bench. He not only had the assist on McInerney's goal but he also had the quick thinking to get the dead ball back into play as fast as possible, catching the Fire defense napping. After playing 2/3 of the game against the Galaxy, look for him to start on the bench again but to come into the 2nd half ready to go. Also look for Kleberson to come in off the bench too. The Philadelphia DP went a full 90 minutes against the Galaxy, but from what I saw he adds that creative vision to the Union team that they otherwise lack.
For the Fire, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Quincy Amarikwa is going to be the Fire's wildcard. He won't be starting but look for him to probably be Frank's first attacking option coming in off the bench. Reports have MacDonald coming back from strep throat, which might push him back in the pecking order. However, Maicon Santos is out for a few weeks due to a shoulder injury picked up in last week's game. With Quincy being the only fully fit forward for this weekend he is going to be looking to make a major impact.
This will probably be the only chance this season where he can expect significant minutes so he must make the most of it. He will look to show Frank that he should be considered for a starting spot and the only way he can do that is by scoring goals. I would expect him to come in around the 60 minute mark and if he can get 1 or 2 goals, he may change Frank's mind about who comes in off the bench first in future games.
So as the Fire travel to Philly Saturday asking the same, seemingly eternal weekly question: "who will score the goals for the Fire?". Will it be a repeat of last week and many other games this season? I'm going to say no. The Fire need the 3 points from this game in order to gain some momentum before heading to Salt Lake City on the 25th. I'm not going to go with my gut this week because I was way off on my prediction last week. I'll say a 1-0 Fire win with the captain Logan Allen Pause getting the winner for his team.