USOC Quarterfinal: Fire v. Atlanta Silverbacks, Preview

Grant Ward has been a fixture in the Fire XI for the last month - will he start again tonight against Atlanta? - Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Men in Red, stretched by fixture congestion, face a shorthanded, lower-league foe tonight who have beaten two MLS teams in a row in the Cup

When: Wednesday July 9th at 6:30PM

Where: Atlanta Silverbacks Park, Atlanta, Georgia

Where to Watch: Streaming live here or on Chicago-Fire.com

Hey, What Happened?

Yallop and company come into this quarterfinal matchup in the US Open Cup riding the back of 2 consecutive 1-1 draws in MLS play. This past Wednesday Chicago tied TFC at home even while being up a man for the majority of the match. Then they decided to play a little bunker ball while visiting SKC and came away with a point thanks to some excellent goal keeping from Sean Johnson.

Atlanta, on the other hand, have not played any NASL league games since June 7th and have only played 2 US Open Cup games since then. Atlanta had to dispatch Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids in the previous two rounds in order to make it to the quarterfinals - and did I mention both of those games were away games?

Hey, What's Happening?

On Wednesday night the Fire travel to the deep south in the quarterfinal matchup that will decide who will get one of four semifinal spots. This is the first time I can remember that the Fire have ever travelled to Atlanta to take on the Silverbacks.

Hey, What Should Happen?

For Atlanta, the things that hurt them the most in this matchup are the suspensions. During the last round tie with the Rapids, Atlanta saw two coaches and three players ejected in a highly tense affair. Eric Wynalda (technical director), Ricardo Montoya (assistant coach), forward Jamie Chavez, and midfielders Kwadwo Poku and Borfor Carr will all be suspended for the match.

What does this mean for the Fire? Well, for starters the Silverbacks will be terribly light on the bench at certain positions. They will be missing the team's leading scorer and this has forced Atlanta to sign, as an emergency, former Chicago Fire homegrown product Kellen Gulley who was on loan from Chicago for the 2013 season. With the Atlanta bench being so thin, and the NASL fall season starting on the weekend, this could be a prime opportunity for the Fire just to simply overwhelm the hosts to advance to the semifinals.

The Fire also has issues to contend with - most importantly, what kind of lineup will Yallop use versus the lower-league opponent. This past Sunday we saw Yallop use a strong starting XI against Sporting Kansas City. Will he do the same versus Atlanta? Will he realize that the US Open Cup is probably the best chance for silverware this season? This cup match, coupled with an Eastern Conference MLS game 3 days later versus New England, may force Yallop to rest some regulars.

Personally, I can see Frank going with Magee and Amarikwa up top - since Quincy was suspended for the trip to KC - with Shipp slotting in right behind him. The usual suspects will be in the midfield, with Ward and Alex on the wings and Larentowicz back after he missed the SKC game due to his wife giving birth. The backline will more than likely consist of Palmer and probably Cochrane on the wings with Ianni and Soumare in the center since we have no other centerbacks to play due to Hurtado leaving the SKC game early with injury.

It has become a dilemma for Yallop now because what does he take seriously, the league or the cup. It is almost the midpoint of their season and the Fire - owing to their woeful record and unimpressive form - may already be at the point where the league season is less important than the cup games.

Hey, What's Going to Happen?

I would hope that Yallop plays his strongest team as this cup, to me, is the only real chance at silverware this season. In my opinion, the Fire have dug themselves too big of a hole to climb out of in league play. I hope Yallop goes all out in the cup and just absolutely demolishes Atlanta on the way to a semifinal trip to Cascadia where they will meet either Seattle or Portland in the semis. I see the Fire winning this one 3-0.

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