Start All Over Again: Chicago Fire vs. SKC, MLS #15, Preview

Jonathan Daniel

CF97 need a comprehensive performance against one of MLS' elite; Wednesday's Open Cup tilt means some rotation in the XI a possibility

When: Sunday July 6th at 2PM CST

Where: Sporting Park in Kansas City

Where to Watch: ESPN

Hey, What Happened?

This past Wednesday the Fire hosted Toronto FC in a match that could set the tone for the remaining 19 games in the season. In what could have been a great chance to go in a take all 3 points turned into a game of could have's. The Fire were playing with a man advantage for most of the match and could not capitalize on the soft red card to Toronto's Luke Moore. Despite being a man down, TFC was able to take the lead right before half time when Jermaine Defoe floated a cross to the back post where Jackson drifted in between defenders to nod the ball home. Harry Shipp brought back the Fire to level terms with his sixth goal of the season early in the second half. Despite being a man up, taking 20 shots, and maintaining 62% possession in the game, the Men in Red just didn't look deadly. They didn't look like a team that really wanted to dominate while being a man up. And so they drew yet again.

In the first meeting of these two teams in 2014, the Fire snatched their second win, 2-1, over a Sporting club which was missing its first four centerbacks. Mike Magee scored twice, then the 10-man Sporks controlled play over the final half, to the chagrin of Chicago faithful everywhere. That win was the last the Men in Red have managed in MLS play.

Hey, What's Happening?

With Wednesday's game now in the rear view mirror, the Fire have to focus on the remaining 19 games in order to make a playoff push. First up is a trip to Kansas City for a Sunday matinee affair with the defending MLS Cup Champions Sporting KC.

Hey, What Should Happen?

The Men in Red sit an uncomfortable ninth in the Eastern Conference, while SKC are on the other end of the conference in first. They have to start winning because ties are not going to get them into the playoffs. I know it may seem a little cliché, but cf97 has to finish their chances and get their chances on target. On Wednesday the Fire took 20 shots - which may sound great in a normal game, but almost all those 20 shots came while playing versus 10 men, and only 6 were on target. I highly doubt that SKC will allow the Fire to muster 20 shots again, which is why it is very important that they take their chances and take them well.

The Fire's defense cannot make the same mental mistakes which have caused problems all season long. Even though SKC may be missing Graham Zusi, as he returns from World Cup duty, they still have plenty of dangerous attacking players that will pounce on mistakes. We know Sporting Park is a tough place to play; if the defense makes an error, that compounds the difficulty of taking all three points back to Chicago.

Overall, the Fire are in the classic relegation-fodder trap of playing decent football, but not getting the results. Encouraging draws at home, tough-luck losses on the road, 'dominating long stretches' with little to show for it - unless these 'encouraging signs' start to knit themselves into wins, Chicago are on the outside looking in again in 2014.

Hey What's Going to Happen?

Just like SKC, who has multiple injuries to deal with as well as the looming transfer of Matt Besler, Frank Yallop and company have their own selection problems, especially up top in the attacking positions.

A 4-4-1-1 that looks like a 4-6-0: Patrick Nyarko is still out due to surgery; Quincy Amarikwa is suspended due to yellow card accumulation; and Juan Luis Anangonó was just loaned to LDU Quito of the Ecuadorian league. That leaves the Fire with two forwards on the roster, Mike Magee and Harrison Shipp. So I would expect Magee to be the lone striker with Shipp lined up right behind him at the top of a five-man midfield with four at the back.

This will mean the Fire have no target man to lump the ball towards when the Kansas City pressure approaches "Blue Hell" levels. La Maquina Roja will need a tireless and intelligent showing from the midfield today - everyone moving to open spaces, everyone offering another option when the press tightens the game up.

The spectre of squad rotation: With the Fire near the bottom of the league table, and a US Open Cup quarterfinal matchup with Atlanta looming, it's possible we could see some time for players a bit deeper in the Fire's bench rotation. Matt Watson, Dilly Duka, Chris Ritter and Logan Pause are names no one would be shocked to see included in a rotated starting XI.

Near full-strength SKC: Besler and Zusi should play some part in today's game - their USA duties kept them away from the team for most of the week, so a start might be a stretch - while the rest of the SKC lineup should look like the one that defeated Portland last weekend. The Fire were able to take advantage of a sky-blue injury crisis in the teams' first meeting this season, clowning Erik Palmer-Brown in his first professional start; today they could see the return of the Collin-Besler pairing in central defense, a duo much less amenable to clowning. If the Men in Red emerge with any points from today's contest, they'll have to earn them the hard way.

Adam's prediction: With the Fire playing away at Sporting Park to the defending champs I just don't see a win coming for them - this week I'll go with a 1-1 tie. This will be a good chance to see how ambitious the Fire will be because you always measure yourself against the defending champion. It is always a measuring stick to see how far you have come along or not come along when you take on the best in the league.

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