Coming off a huge league win in Philly last weekend the Fire followed it up by laying a stinker versus DC United in the semi-finals of the US Open Cup. A highly touted semi-final that could have led to the Fire winning their 5th Open Cup resulted in a flat Fire team that was just plain awful. To me, it seemed like the team had no energy whatsoever. They couldn't create any offense, and when Nyarko left right before half time with a head injury the Fire were left reeling, trying to find offense from anywhere.
Like many of goals that we have given up that led to losses, our problem yet again was our defense. First Sean Johnson bobbled a ball that he tried catching over Silva that led to De Rosario scoring the 1st goal. Johnson even admitted after the game that it was not the right decision on his part and he should have just punched the ball away. The 2nd goal came right after the break and was due to the defense being a little lax with DeLeon at the top of the box, and he was able to get a shot off that took a tiny deflection but still ended up in the back of the net. One of the Fire's new acquisitions, Juan Luis Anangono, made his debut and looked like he still needed a couple more games to get acclimated to his new surroundings. Alright, alright, enough about that disappointing loss.
We now move on to tonight. The Fire welcome Marco Schallibaum (Marco S.) and the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park. Montreal have been slipping as of late after starting the season on a tear that saw them near or at the top of the Eastern Conference. With only 1 win in their last 7 games played, they seem to be on the ropes. Could this be from fatigue or just a bad spell? They do have older players like Di Vaio and Nesta that may not be able to keep up with a long season but they still have young talented players on their roster like Papopni and Martins and even their newest DP Hernan Bernardello. They look to keep pace with New York and SKC as the season winds down towards the playoffs.
The last time these teams met was way back in April when the Impact took all of the points in Montreal. But a lot has changed for the Fire since then, including a couple of trades and some new signings and a run of form that has given this team some confidence. The game back in April was dominated by the Impact and the Fire had nothing to show for their trip north of the border. Like so many other games this season it was a tale of 2 halves. The Fire were able to keep up with Montreal in the 1st half, but then came the 2nd half when Montreal started applying pressure on the Fire's defense and found the back of the net twice. Like I said that game seems like a long time ago with both teams going through change.
Marco S. had a midweek game in which he rested a few of his starters. As far as injuries go they have nothing new to be concerned about. Since I haven't watched the Impact play much this season, this would be my best guess to what he goes with tonight:
We should all know Frank by now and know that he doesn't like to change his lineup that much. The only player out for Saturday night is Nyarko, who left Wednesday's game with a head injury. It also has been reported that Magee and Rolfe are questionable for Saturday night as well but I think they'll still play. Look for Lindpere to lineup on the left and Duka on the right. I would really love to see Frank start playing some of the kids instead of Lindpere, like possibly throwing Atouba or Pineda out there. With the majority of the minutes going to the same players and with the team almost out of the playoff race why not give them a chance? Pineda has not played in a league game yet since signing as the team's first homegrown player 4 years ago. Is Frank afraid to play him? Does he not trust him? I just don't know why he keeps them around if they are not going to get used. Unfortunately yet again this is what we will probably see from Frank:
- Fire offense vs. Montreal's aging backline- Montreal's outside backs are still relatively young but their center backs can be taken advantage of. The majority of their center backs are 30 or older with the oldest being Nesta at 37. If the Fire can put on constant pressure then maybe they can wear them down in order to create more space. At the same time this could prove costly as with age comes experience and they could have the "soccer smarts" to counter act a pressure system. This is definitely a matchup worth watching as Duka, Magee, and Rolfe will look to get the better of the Impact defense.
- Fire's tactics- Versus Philly, Frank and company had the majority of play and didn't have to rely on their emergency tactic of playing long balls up to the forwards. Against DC that was another story. Since the Fire couldn't create any kind of movement through the midfield from the back line (especially after Nyarko went down), they had to resort to playing a long ball. This didn't work as DC's defense is bigger than our main offensive threats. Frank cannot afford to resort to a long ball against Montreal as they also have a big defensive corps. The Fire have to be able to find a way to work the ball through the midfield up to the forwards on the ground.
For Montreal I'm going to go with Marco Di Vaio. The 37 year old Italian has shown that he can still play and play well. So far this season he has played in 20 games and has scored 11 goals and added 2 assists. He is the main offensive threat for Montreal but he is one player that can change the course of the game. He is one of those players that makes everyone around him better. He knows when to make runs and even without the ball he opens space for others in order to generate offensive chances. With the pace and form that he is on he may end up playing a couple more years and he will probably be productive until the end of his career.
For the Fire I'm going to go with our latest offensive signing Juan Luis Anangono ("Gono"). If he doesn't start look for him to come in off the bench around the 55-60 minute mark if our offense needs a change. Gono will want to impress as he looks to remain in the Ecuadorian National Team side and he will also want to try to play well so he gets more comfortable with his surroundings. If the FO has it right this guy has all the tools necessary to become one of the top forwards. Let's see how he plays and if he will be an impact signing that we and the FO are hoping for.
Well with the US Open Cup not in the mind of the Fire anymore in 2013, they must focus on picking up every available point possible. This and the rest of the games in the season are must wins. 1 or 2 games when the Fire don't get max points will effectively put them out of playoff talk. Both teams are coming off midweek games in which the majority of starters played for both teams. The Fire are now playing for their playoff lives and the Impact are trying to avoid sliding further back in the Eastern Conference. The Impact have a lot of veterans that are starting to feel the grind of the MLS season as the Fire use an unchanged lineup week after week which grinds down players. So what happens Saturday night? It's going to be a matter of what team wants the points more and can get over the fatigue factor. I'm actually going to go with a 1-1 tie as the Fire and Impact just play one of those games that can be described as just plain ugly.