Going into last weekend with the playoffs in sight, facing a team that is struggling with injuries and poor form, good win the week before while missing some important players, the Fire team seemed to beaming with confidence - and then turf happened.
The Fire's awful record of playing on turf continued, and the playoffs look more elusive than ever. Even with our new DP, Arevalo Rios, in the starting lineup couldn't help. Chicago came out and had a couple good looks in the beginning, but then looked just awful. With no creativity in the attack, the defense was forced to pump long ball after long ball up top, as they were pressured by the New England attackers who really took the game to the Fire. In the end the Fire did nothing while New England were able to put up two goals against us, controlling the entire game from start to finish.
This week we see a familiar foe in Sporting Kansas City. Just over six weeks ago, the Fire hosted SKC at Toyota Park and were thoroughly handled by the team from the middle of America. That game finished with a score line of 2-1; though the score line seems close, it was far from close. SKC had a two-goal lead by the eighth minute and never looked back, despite giving up a goal by sloppy defending.
You may remember the game because afterwards Mike Magee had this to say:
"I wish I knew why [the Fire had such a small time of possession]. I think we felt the game was tied or we were winning, we were just going to sit back and be content. Unfortunately we were down 2-1, so it wasn't a very good game plan."
"I'm still fuming over the game today. Yesterday I really wanted it, but today all I'm thinking about is how badly this loss feels at home in front of our biggest crowd that we've had since I've been here. We literally laid down."
Will Friday be different? I absolutely hope so, but that's as far as my optimism goes. This has to be a game where the Fire get some kind of result against one of the best teams in MLS. If the playoffs are to stay within reach, that is. SKC is a good team and has a good system with good players but the Fire must take the game to Kansas City and beat them at their own game. Otherwise SKC will be controlling the entire game and cf97 will be unable to do anything but play long ball after long ball.
Peter Vermes loves to stick with a 4-3-3 formation that looks more like a 4-1-2-3 formation with Rosell sitting deep allowing the other 2 midfielders the freedom to move forward. SKC has a couple injuries that may prevent Vermes from putting his strongest lineup on the field. Kamara is still out and Zusi is questionable but if he can play you can bet he will be in the starting lineup. If that's the case here is what we may see on Friday night:
Klopas(suspended) Percovic(also suspended?) Matkovich will have less to choose from this week. With the availability of Nyarko(concussion) as out for Friday night, coupled with Soumare getting a red card after the New England game. That puts 2 players out for Friday night. This is a lineup that we will probably see:
- Matkovich vs. Vermes- With possibly both Klopas and Percovic both sitting in the stands for this match, Mike Matkovich looks to be the one making the calls Friday night. We all know what Vermes brings to the table as he has shown the league he likes to yell a lot at the officials and play a high pressure and very physical game plan. Matkovich will have to adapt the game plan to possibly throw off SKC. They are a beatable team and if the Fire can counter the high pressure system with varying tactics than it won't be as bad as the last time SKC played at Toyota Park. I'm sure Matkovich will have a game plan that Frank will put into place but it will be his job to change tactics to match what SKC does on the field.
- SKC wingers vs. cf97 outside backs- I admit, SKC has some very good players especially their wingers. Kamara, Zusi, Saad, Bundbury, and Sapong are all talented, quick players that would start on almost any other team in the MLS. Kamara has even shown he can make an impact in the EPL when he was on loan there this past spring but fortunately he is out for Friday. With Soumare being suspended I would assume that Anibaba will move to the middle with Pause/Paladini/Thompson taking his place on the right side and with Segares playing a lot of minutes this season on left, the SKC wings will be looking to press the ball against our wing backs. They will look to wear them down all match and especially on the right side, because let's face it, if Pause starts he will not be able to keep up with whoever starts in front of him. This game could get ugly if #cf97 can't control the attack of SKC and their attack 95% of the time starts with their wings.
For SKC I'll go with Claudio Bieler. The 29 year old Argentine forward has adapted well to the play of MLS. So far he has featured in every game this season starting in all but one of them. Bieler has amassed 9 goals and 3 assists so far and from what I have seen of him that is not his most important contributions. He can make runs to open space for his teammatesm, he can play with his back to goal in order to hold the ball up, he can get under any defender's skin, and when given open space he knows how to make the most of it. He has proven to be one of the buys of the season for SKC and being a relatively cheap DP he is definitely worth the money. The center backs will have their hands full with him but maybe the addition of Rios to the lineup will help control the production coming from Bieler.
For the Fire I'll go with Juan Luis Anangono. After coming here on a 7 figure transfer and not producing a goal in his first 3 games is probably starting weighing on him and his confidence. What can make his confidence worse is if Chris Rolfe is back from injury he may be reduced to a substitute role until he can get fully adjusted to MLS. If he does start I'm looking at him to have a strong game. Anangono has the size and speed to take on Besler and Collin while opening space for the other attackers. If he can get a goal against one of the best teams in the league it will give him the confidence he needs. It will also show the cf97 nation hope that he is not another wasted DP.
With only 10 matches remaining the Fire need to take every single point possible. This season has been a story of two Fire teams. The one team that can take points from those teams that they should take points from and another team that doesn't take points from the teams that they would meet if they make the playoffs. Of course that didn't happen last week in New England as the Fire continued their awful play on turf. Unfortunately with the Fire's failure to secure 3 points to a lesser team last week, this game is a must win. With Houston sitting 5 points ahead of cf97 in the 5th spot and travelling to Montreal this weekend there is a chance by Sunday the Fire could be 8 points back of Houston heading to a crucial matchup of the 2 teams a week later. As I said a couple weeks ago, we would know the Fire's playoff picture more clearly by Labor Day. Well, if results don't happen, in the next 2 games we could see the team sitting 11 points back of a playoff spot by Labor Day.
As for this game with the way that the Fire are playing, along with injuries and suspensions, I just don't see a result Friday night. SKC is one of the top teams in league despite having a 4-3-0 record since they last played us. This season we haven't been able to put much offense up against them as their high pressure system has proven too much to handle for the Fire. I'll say that if Nyarko and Rolfe are still out this week and SKC also are missing some key players that the score line finishes 3-0 to SKC as our offense fail to produce anything.