Fishing At Low Tide?: SEA v CHI preview, MLS #26

The roster may be thinned by injuries and call-ups, but these loonies won't be. The Fire must keep their nerve in what will be an ear-shattering cauldron of noise. - Otto Greule Jr

Fire hope to pounce on weary, attrition-thinned Sounders, need all three points to keep up in wild Eastern Conference playoff race

So another week is in the books - and, yet again, for the Fire it was a tale of two halves. The Men in Red came out last weekend and took the game to Houston, creating numerous chances but never able to finish. They did, however, take a 1-0 lead into the break, thanks to a own-goal off of a corner kick that deflected in off of Houston defender Bobby Boswell. The first half was all Fire as they applied nonstop pressure in search of a goal.

The second half was entirely the opposite. Houston's halftime adjustments changed the tides of the match and the Fire seemed unable to respond, instead settling nine men behind the ball and conceding possession. The pressure paid off for the Dynamo as they were able to find an equalizer in stoppage time. The Fire's inability to relieve any pressure in the second half cost them a chance to move ahead of Houston as games dwindle.

Saturday night, #cf97 head to Seattle to take on the Sounders in yet another must-win game. The Fire have a chance to move into fifth place in the East - all they have to do is come home with all three points from Seattle, something the club has never done. Easy enough, right?

Seattle are also without key players due to international call-ups and injuries - and also played midweek versus Chivas USA. Even better news for the Fire, right?

One last thing! Seattle plays on turf - and we all know how bad Chicago has been on turf for the past few years, right? We all know that the Fire have a 2-6-2 record on the road with a -10 goal differential, right?

You combine all of that with the threat of missing the playoffs (yet again under the current regime) - this game could be one big, hot mess. Bottom line: With Houston playing New York and New England playing Montreal this weekend, any ground lost by the Fire to other Eastern Conference teams will make the playoffs nothing more than one of 2014 season's aspirations.

So get ready for a fun night of soccer in Seattle tonight. Let's hope the Fire finally show some urgency, because we all know what's on the line - do they?

Lineups

Sigi Schmid will not have his full roster to choose from this week as Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Brad Evans were called up by the USA - although Evans had to withdraw with the calf injury which will sideline him tonight. Schmid also has key players carrying injuries. Obafemi Martins and Djimi Traore will likely be game-time decisions. There has also been some talk of rookie Eriq Zavaleta getting a start at target forward. Who knows? If Sigi had to choose the best lineup from his available personnel this is what we would see:

Gspurning

Yedlin-Traore-Hurtado-Scott

Rosales-Carrasco-Alonso-Burch

Estrada-Neagle

So I'm sure that we have all figured out by now that Klopas does not change his lineup unless there are injuries, suspensions, or international call ups. Well this week the Fire will be without Egidio Arévalo Rios and Joel Lindpere, who are on duty with their national teams. So this is what I think Frank will go with Saturday night in Seattle:

Johnson

Anibaba-Soumare-Berry-Segares

Nyarko-Larentowicz-Alex-Duka

Magee-Rolfe

Key Matchups
  • Fire vs. Century Link Field or the "Clink"- By now we all know that the Fire do not play well on turf; something about not winning on fake grass since 2010 really brings the point home. The "Clink" has the nasty stuff that players hate to play on - but the Fire are going to have to get a positive result on Saturday night no matter what. As much as it pains me to talk about it, there's also the atmosphere of the Sounders home field the Fire are going to have to deal with. It will be LOUD. This will probably be the loudest place they play at all year. The Men in Red will have to rely on instinct and chemistry between each other to create and keep possession throughout the match.
  • Seattle vs. fatigue - It is one of that time of the year where teams have to deal with call ups while playing league games. The Sounders, fortunately for cf97, have not only that problem but also injuries that make their usually-stacked roster a bit thin. Finally, Seattle played Chivas USA on Wednesday night. This is something that the Fire can take advantage of - but to do so, they will have to keep possession of the ball and make the Sounders chase them. This is the best way to exhaust a tired team. If the Fire are able to do this, they will have no problem creating chances and taking all three points from the team in rave green (just call it green already).

Wildcards

For Seattle I'll go with Lamar Neagle. He scored this past Wednesday to lead Seattle to victory over the hapless Goats. Neagle is playing well when he gets a chance - that goal takes him six for the year, only one behind Johnson and Martins. Mainly featuring as a sub with Seattle and Montreal the last two seasons, in 2013 he has been able to lock down a starting spot since returning to Seattle. He has shown that he will play anywhere just as long as he gets to play. With Johnson and Dempsey both unavailable and Martins questionable for the match, Neagle will more than likely get the start again up top, where he'll be hoping to force Sigi to make some tough decisions when he has a full roster to choose from.

For the Fire, I have to go with Alex. Last week he had a good game in which he was able to control the ball and provide a spark in the attack, but was substituted in the second half. What better week to shine than this one. With Rios and Lindpere both gone for international duty, Alex will more than likely feature heavily in this game lined up next to Larentowicz in the middle. He will be needed in the box-to-box role that will help create some offense - our forwards have not scored in over a month. I wouldn't be surprised if Alex gets on the score sheet Saturday night.

Outcome

It's another big game for the Fire and another big game that they can ill afford to drop any points. This game could not have come at a better time for Frank and company. The Sounders have an eye-popping roster for MLS, but a good portion of that roster will be unavailable for the match: Names like Dempsey, Johnson, Martins, Evans and Zakuani will not be in the starting lineup. Even though Seattle won 1-0 versus Chivas midweek, their lineup may not have the legs and depth for a full 90 minute match.

In my opinion, the Fire will get lucky and take all 3 points. A final score of 2-1 will keep Chicago's playoff aspirations afloat.

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