It was a Sunday afternoon and the Chicago Fire looked to extend 9 game unbeaten streak to 10 games versus Sporting Kansas City. Weather was good, stands were packed, and bobble heads were abound. There was an electricity in the air as well as positive thoughts that the Fire were going to let the momentum of the streak and the previous game against San Jose push them to victory. Instead the Fire came out flat gave up 2 quick goals and never seemed likely to take all 3 points. The streak ended that day, but as one ends the next one can begin.
This Sunday the Fire travel north of the border to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver and Chicago have almost an identical record over the last 2 months. Vancouver, since May 11th, are 6-1-2 whereas the Fire are 4-1-2 since May 25th. Something has to give as the Fire look to stop one of the hottest teams in the league at the moment and make a push up the standings to get into a playoff spot. With a couple of players out due to suspension it doesn't get easier as the Fire travel to play indoors at BC Place. Will the Fire be able to escape Canada with all 3 points? Will the words that Magee used after the SKC game last weekend light a "fire" and wake this team up to push the game against the Whitecaps? We shall see.
Martin Rennie will have a few players missing due to international duty (Teibert and Thomas with Canada, Mitchell with Trinidad and Tobago). Other than that he will be able to choose from the players that he has used in recent weeks. This is how I think he will line up versus the Fire. On paper it may look like a 4-3-3 but on the field it may look more like a 4-1-4-1 because of the way that the wingers track back:
Frank will have the majority of his first choice starters to pick from so don't look for anything to change much. Gonzalo Segares is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, so look for new comer Shaun Francis to take his place. I would have rather seen Hunter Jumper be given another shot at left back with the first team but I think Frank will go with Francis. It was also just announced that Daniel Paladini will be suspended for an additional game due to his dangerous tackle against Sporting KC. He would have missed this game anyway but will now also not feature in the July 20th DCU match. This is what we will probably see on Sunday:
- Will the Fire be able to handle another week of a team that likes to attack in numbers? Last week SKC used a 4-3-3 formation versus the Fire and maintained a constant attacking pressure against the defense. Vancouver uses almost the same kind of formation and strategy. Over the course of the season, Vancouver, has scored 29 goals, which is 2nd most in the league. But their defense has also been porous, giving up 25 goals this year. If the Fire can effectively counter attack there should be no reason why they couldn't put up a few goals. They just have to sustain the pressure and make clean passes to spring the likes of Nyarko, Duka, Alex, Magee, and Rolfe.
- Fire versus themselves on defending set pieces. We have seen all year long that the Fire have had a tough time defending set pieces, corners, and throw-ins deep in their own half. We saw it last week yet again when SKC scored their first goal off of a throw-in deep in the Fire's half. Even versus San Jose the Fire gave up the 1st goal when caught flat footed in the back on a second chance from a free kick, which allowed Alan Gordon to go in on goal alone. They have to clean up on set pieces if they want to have any kind of chance on Sunday. With players like Camilo, Miller, Reo-Coker and even Kobayashi, the 'Caps can take advantage of set piece opportunities. They also have a few tall players that will be hard to defend on these set pieces, like Davidson (6'2"), Rusin (6'4"), and Hertzog (6'). Being indoors and having noise from an expected sellout crowd of 21,000 it will make it extremely difficult for the backline to communicate.
To tell you the truth the Whitecaps have some very good young players that can make an impact on any game. One in particular that I like to watch is Camilo. At age 24 the young Brazilian had a sophomore slump in 2012 after scoring 12 goals for the team in 2011. So far this season he has played in 17 games and has already scored 10 goals, while also adding 3 assists. He has nowhere to go but up and has the skills to become one of the best forwards/wingers in the league. He will more than likely start and if he does he will be more than a handful for the Fire defense (especially the wing backs).
For the Fire I have to go with Mike Magee. This team looks as though they are going to rely heavily on him to be the catalyst to their offense. He has scored in all but one game so far while wearing the red jersey and has had a point in every game he has played for the Fire. He wants to win and he hates to play below the standards of what he has come to expect for himself and the rest of the team. He is very vocal on the field and tries to lead by example. I would argue that as long as Pause is out due to injury, he should be given the captain's armband.
With the Fire having to travel to Vancouver after coming off a poor performance last Sunday, I think it will be hard for them to get a result against the Whitecaps. It won't be easy but they can do it as long as they create and finish their opportunities and have no stupid mistakes. What I mean is that they have to be spot on in back and have no mental lapses such as easy giveaways and poor marking on set pieces. They are definitely going to have to control the ball in order to have any chance at finding the back of the net. I think this one will finish 3-1 in favor of Vancouver. Vancouver is playing some of the best soccer in the league right now and they have too many dangerous attacking options at the moment. I just can't see the Fire slowing them down enough to get a result. I hope I'm wrong and they can get a result in order to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot.