Thanks to Toronto FC drawing in a wild 3-3 game against D.C. United last night, the Chicago Fire enter tonight's game in sole position of last place in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for Chicago, their opponent is the expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps who are in last place in the Western Conference and have even less points than Chicago (19 vs 15). Unfortunately as a fan of this team, I'm finding it hard to have any excitement for this game. The playoff picture looks very bleak. I've been running some numbers that confirm this season was always going to be an uphill battle. This season has become tune-ups for: 1.) Winning the U.S. Open Cup 2.) Winning the Brimstone Cup 3.) Preparing for the 2012 season. It is comforting that we have a decent shot at doing all three the right way. For now, the task at hand is taking care of the Vancouver Whitecaps no matter what level of relevancy anyone might place on the game's impact in the 2011 MLS Playoff race.When Cory Gibbs came off the field thanks to a groin strain in the opening minutes of Wednesday's game against Philadelphia, it represented the first time all year that neither Gibbs nor Yamith Cuesta was one of the two center backs for the Chicago Fire. Cuesta was serving a one-game suspension so he'll be back in the lineup for tonight's game. Gibbs' groin injury has persisted to the point he is listed as OUT on the MLS Injury Report. CB Josip Mikulic greatly benefits from the chance to start in Cuesta's place last Wednesday and in Gibbs' place tonight. The 25 year-old Croatian had been shutout of CB starts during the 12-game run the Gibbs-Cuesta duo had between May 14 and July 16. Given Gibbs' injury history and the fact the team is likely looking forward to 2012, this Wednesday might have even been the American veteran's last start in a Chicago Fire uniform. Mikulic is a starting quality CB and was only pushed to the bench due to an injury of his own. It would not surprise me to see a changing of the guard happen due to another injury should Gibbs miss a couple of games and Mikulic continues to impress.
The big question on Frank Klopas' lineup card is whether or not to continue with the one forward formation he featured on Wednesday. Dominic Oduro doesn't seem well suited to continue to start as the lone forward but injuries to Diego Chaves and to a lesser extent Gabriel Ferrari leave Chicago with just 3 forwards to choose from on the whole roster. Do you start Oduro and Nazarit and hope they don't both need a substitution? Was Klopas saving Barouch to start today's game when he didn't use the 19 year-old earlier this week? Barouch's exclusion from the field was the first time he hadn't entered a MLS Regular season game since May 7. For my money, I like the idea of starting Nazarit and Oduro up top together more than I like the idea of including Daniel Paladini in the midfield in a one forward lineup. The rest of the lineup should be no-brainers seeing Sean Johnson in goal, Logan Pause and Gonzalo Segares on the defensive wings, Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko on the offensive wings, and Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo in the central midfield.
Vancouver has lost five of their last six games. That horrible stretch includes a 4-0 laugher vs. the Los Angeles Galaxy and a 1-0 loss to lowly Toronto FC. The only positive result was a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes who are another team that has struggled this year. I look for an aggressive game from both sides as both teams don't have much to lose and certainly don't have that much to gain from a tie. I'll be shocked if the final score is a repeat of the May 7 game at Toyota Park that ended 0-0. So my denial stage can be a little longer, I'm predicting a 2-1 Chicago Fire win. Please get me out of this soccer purgatory cf97.