Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution - MLS #23 - Preview

USA TODAY Sports

The Fire travel to New England and play on the fake stuff Saturday in an Eastern Conference 6 pointer. Can the Fire break the awful streak of playing on the turf and pad their lead over the Revs while staying in the hunt for the playoffs? With new DP's and a new hunger from the team, I definitely think so.

Last week, the Fire had a game where Patrick Nyarko and Mike Magee weren't in the game day 18, and Chris Rolfe started on the bench. We all had a collective thought of "oh boy this should be fun". Well, cf97 came out and dominated the severely regressing Montreal Impact at Toyota Park and took the full 3 points to stay in the playoff talk. With goals coming from Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in the first half and some key saves coming from the "Milkman" Sean Johnson, the Fire were able to hang on for the much needed win. Since the start of June the Fire have only lost twice and are turning around a season that looked all but done at the end of May.

New England, on the other hand, are coming off a loss to Sporting Kansas City at home in which they saw 2 of their players ejected while being thoroughly dominated by the team formerly known as the Wizards. Losing 3-0 pushed them below the Fire in the standings, and they look to be fading out of the playoff picture as they struggle with injuries and players not playing to the standards needed to win in MLS. Since the beginning of June, they have amassed a 4-5-2 record that has not been able to keep them in a playoff spot. Forwards have not been producing, which has forced New England to play players out of position (look at Chad Barrett playing on the wing last week). All of this has happened despite the Revs defense keeping them in games by giving up only 23 goals this season. That ties them for the 3rd fewest goals against in MLS.

This game is a must win for both teams. The playoffs start in a little over 2 months and in the Eastern Conference. 1st place and 7th place are only separated by 9 points. That is not a comfortable position for any team at the top, but it gives hope to teams that are looking up at them. Both the Men in Red and the Revs will be looking to come out and assert their dominance Saturday night in order to stay in the playoff hunt. This is a game the Fire have to take and, as Frank said, "We're in a good place, we fought really hard to get here, and it's almost like it's a new season. It's 12 games left, and I think it's really up to us. It's in our hands." Don't let us down cf97.

Lineups

On Saturday Jay Heaps will have to shuffle his lineup around as he has to deal with players trying to come back from injury (Juan Agudelo and Clyde Simms) and suspensions (Andy Dorman and Dimitry Imbongo). Heaps likes to stick with a single forward up top but keeps attacking minded wingers on the outside so they can act as 2nd and 3rd forwards. This is the lineup that we will more than likely see from Heaps and the Revolution:

Shuttleworth

Alston-Gonclaves-McCarthy-Farrell

Caldwell

Tierney-Nguyen-Toja-Fagundez

Sene

Frank Klopas will look to have an almost fully fit roster as well as having his new center midfielder, Arevalo Rios, available for selection. The only injury concern is Patrick Nyarko, who still remains out with a concussion. Here is what I think the lineup will look like come Saturday night:

Johnson

Anibaba-Soumare-Berry-Segares

Duka-Larentowicz-Rios-Lindpere

Magee-Anangono

Key Matchups

  • Fire vs. the turf of Gillette Stadium- Let's face it, the Fire aren't that good when they have to play on the plastic stuff. cf97 has not won on turf since June 27th of 2010, and that last win was against the  Revs at Gillette. If the Fire want to stay in the playoff race, they will have to take all 3 points at New England and will have to improve their awful record on turf. There is something about playing soccer on turf that players can't get used to. The ball moves quicker and it takes a lot out of the players because it's harder to move on. Personally, I hate playing on the fake stuff and most players do too but the fact is the Fire have to get full points on Saturday even though they aren't playing on real grass.
  • Sean Johnson- Sean has to continue his dominant play because he gives confidence to the defense for the Fire. When he plays well the defense plays well. It is just a factor of knowing that behind the last man is someone that is capable of stopping almost anything thrown at him. If the Fire want to pick up max points versus the Revs and for the rest of the season, he will have to come up huge every single game.

Wildcards

For New England, I have 2 players that can really affect the outcome of this game- Saer Sene and Diego Fagundez. The big French forward has gotten off to a slow start this season due to injuries, but, with suspensions and injuries to other on the Revs, he will be asked to provide that attacking spark as the lone forward. He is one player that the Fire cannot take lightly because he has the size and ability to beat you on the ground and in the air, especially on set pieces (a notorious fatal flaw of the Fire). Diego Fagundez has really stepped his game up this year (only being 18) and has a very bright future ahead of him. After signing as a homegrown player in late 2010 he was mainly used as a reserve/substitute his first 2 seasons but this season he has started in 17 games and played in 20 games total, scoring 7 goals amd assisting on 4 others. Fagundez has been developing into a player that will only get better with more time on the pitch, and he has show he has the skill to take on any defender. He scored versus the Fire last season at Gillette Stadium and will look to do it again.

For the Fire, I'll go with the latest designated player- Arevalo Rios. Rios received all of the necessary paperwork in order to play on Friday. After talking to a few people I work with who are familiar with Liga MX about Rios, they all came to the same conclusion: he is a player that will make you pay out on the field. He is the type of player that will go through a brick wall to win the ball. He puts a little fear into the opposing players because they know he is out there. I see him kind of like Cuauhtemoc Blanco: the type of player that you hate to play against but love him if he plays for you.

Outcome

The Fire roll into tonight with 1 point and 1 game in hand over the Revs. This is the perfect opportunity to put a little cushion between them and stay close to Houston and Montreal. The turf is probably the only stumbling block for the Fire. Can they break their their 3 year winless streak and finally pick up a full 3 points on turf? I think so with a 2-0 win as the Fire come out guns-a-blazing. It will still be tough, but if the Fire want to continue to be in the playoff discussion, 3 points is a must.

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