Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes - MLS #16 - Preview

Thearon W. Henderson

After giving Cinderella (a.k.a Orlando City) the boot in the U.S. Open Cup last Wednesday, the Chicago Fire return to league action against the San Jose Earthquakes.

The unbeaten streak for the Chicago Fire stays alive after defeating Orlando City in the most recent round of the U.S. Open Cup. The Fire now have an eight game unbeaten streak going across all competitions and have won their last four games. Both Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee have yet to lose since joining the Fire this season.

In last Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup game against Orlando City, the Fire got to see what all the hype was about surrounding the giant killers from the third division. Orlando stood toe to toe with the Fire and, after an equalizer in the second half, even stood a chance at besting the Men in Red.

But Orlando made a few key mistakes late in the second half that sealed their fate. Orlando's keeper drop kicked a ball straight to Patrick Nyarko, and Nyarko took it straight to goal to give the Fire a one goal lead. Moments later, Jeff Larentowicz picked the poket of an Orlando City player before dishing the ball off to Chris Rolfe to put the Fire up 3-1. After that goal, Orlando City lost their composure and the game got sloppy. Two Orlando City players were shown red cards. The Fire scored two more goals. One fat lady sang.

The Fire's upcoming opponent, the San Jose Earthquakes, feel like they are riding an 8 game unbeaten streak. The Quakes have won two of their three games since coach Frank Yallop departed from the organization. Their most recent victory on Saturday came against their in-state rival, Los Angeles Galaxy, in front of over 50,000 people at Stanford Stadium. The Quakes rallied from a two goal deficient to win a game they had no business winning and breathing new life in to a stupid catch phrase that most fans of Major League Soccer would like to see go away.

While Goonies never say die, they often do die on the road and after wins. Six of San Jose's seven defeats this season have been on the road. San Jose's record in games following wins this season is a miserable 0-3-1. Let's hope these trends continue on Wednesday.

Lineups

Mark Watson is going to have his work cut out for him on Wednesday. Three regular starting players will not be available for Wednesday's game: Chris Wondowlowski (Gold Cup), Marvin Chavez (Gold Cup) and Victor Bernardez (suspension). Nana Attakora, a back up who might have been the first option to replace Victor Bernardez, will also be out for Gold Cup duties with Canada.

Jahn - Lenhart

Martinez - Cronin - Baca - Salinas

Morrow - Hernandez - Ring - Beitashour

Busch

For the Fire, I do not expect Frank Klopas will pull any surprises. The team should be well rested and, with the exception of Sean Johnson who is away for the Gold Cup, most everyone should be available. One of the nice things coming out of this unbeaten streak is that it looks like Frank has quite a few options to go with in the midfield. I think Frank starts Dilly Duka over Joel Lindpere because San Jose likes to use their speed down the wings.

Rolfe - Magee

Duka - Alex - Larentowics - Nyarko

Segares - Soumare - Berry - Anibaba

Tornaghi

Key Matchups/Points

  • Force San Jose to play through the middle: As I mentioned above, San Jose likes to use their speed out wide. This is true even when Marvin Chavez is gone. Their preference for goal scoring is to fly down the wings, send a cross in and hope that one of their forwards can get on the end of it. San Jose doesn't like attacking through the middle of the field. Baca and Cronin are good midfielders, but neither of them are much of the attacking type. If San Jose has to go up the middle, Baca or Cronin will try to smash the ball up field to one of their big forwards, who will hold the ball up and try to distribute the ball back out wide to midfielder making an overlapping run. The Fire can force San Jose into a bottle neck and win possession.
  • Lenhart/Gordon vs. the Fire back line: Gordon and Lenhart (especailly Lenhart) are bullys. Lenhart is one yellow from being suspended and is lucky to not have picked up a yellow on Saturday for some of the stuff he was pulling against the Galaxy. It's all intimidation. I'm not worried about Bakary Soumare (actually, Bakary vs. Lenhart is going to be pretty entertaining), but I am worried about Austin Berry. Berry has had a few shaky games this year, and I don't want to see a player like Lenhart get into his head.
  • Exploit San Jose's preference to play down the flank: I did just mention that the Fire should force San Jose to play through the middle, but there is no way that the Fire will be able to completely shut San Jose down out wide. It's going to happen, and sometimes it is going to happen with the defensive backs joining in on the attack leaving San Jose vulnerable for a counter attack. I actually expect the Fire to get one goal out of a situation like this. Against the Galaxy on Saturday, San Jose's back line looked like a clown car set ablaze on a number of counter attacks. And this was with Victor Bernardez. Two or three defenders would panic and go after the guy with the ball, while not being aware of other attacking players making runs in the area.

Wildcards

Dumb luck. It's hard not to look back at the San Jose team from 2012 and think that they won more games than they should have. They were not a bad team, but, on more than one occasion, things went their way just in the nick of time.

Outcome

The Earthquakes are missing a lot of key players, playing on short rest and are on the road where they have struggled. The Fire need to take advantage of this one and get all three points. I think this is going to be a 3-1 Fire victory, and I can only see it going in two different ways: 1) Chicago will give up an early goal and then score three unanswered or 2) Chicago will take a 2-0 lead, give up a goal and then get one more goal to put the game out of reach. I don't know who will score the three goals, but I do know that Mike Magee will get at least one of them.

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