So anybody up for a little Brimstone Cup on Saturday night? I know I am - and yes, I am aware that the rivalry has died down over the years, but it still means something to me. Yet again it is another week where the Fire are in a "must win game" situation. This time they travel to Toyota Stadium to take on FC Dallas with their playoff hopes alive, but in jeopardy.
Last weekend cf97 went to DC and took all three points home. Sean Johnson stood on his head and stopped all shots taken by DC United to preserve the Fire's fifth shutout of the season. Goals came from Jeff Larentowicz, Bakary Soumare, and Quincy Amarikwa as Chicago essentially gave up every other statistical category to DC United, including a 69-31 percent edge in possession. If the Fire do that this weekend in Dallas, it will certainly take another miracle in order to bring all three points back to Chicago.
Dallas, on the other hand, has technically been out of the playoff picture for a couple weeks now. They are winless in their last four and have won only twice since June 1st. Last week they had a mixed result versus RSL - the Toros came from behind to share the points in Salt Lake, which is always good, but they did so despite a man advantage for most of the contest. Like DC, Dallas has nothing to lose at this point. They will be looking to play the role of the spoiler; three points at home will win them the Brimstone Cup and keep a rival from reaching the playoffs. What's going to happen when these two teams meet in Frisco? Let's hope for the best for cf97.
Schellas Hyndman has almost a full roster to choose from - a few long term injuries linger, to Eric Hassli, Ugo Ihemelu, and London Woodbury, while Je-Vaughn Watson (Jamaica) and Blas Perez (Panama) are out due to international duty. I wouldn't expect to see many changes from the side that tied RSL last week. This is the lineup that Dallas will more than likely start with versus cf97:
So Frank Klopas will be without Rios and Lindpere due to international duty. I don't expect Frank to make any drastic changes to the lineup that came away with three points in DC. More than likely Pause will come in for Rios, but if Frank wants to take the game to Dallas I think he should put Alex in for Rios. Frank does like his defensive mids, though, so this is what he will probably start with Saturday night:
Keys to the Game
- Containing Jackson and Castillo - The 2 South American products have added a creative flair for Dallas and have been known to run at the defenses to cause havoc. In his 3rd season with Dallas, Castillo, has had a down year with only two goals to his name, but has added six assists which is double his output from last season. Jackson has become a mainstay in the Dallas lineup in his 4th season in MLS and is having a productive season although his numbers are down from a year ago. The defense, especially the outside backs, have to keep an eye on these two players. Both like to work on the outside and move into the middle to create offense and muddle marking assignments. Whoever starts on the wings for cf97 - pick two of Nyarko, Rolfe and Duka - will also have to track back and help out because - as we saw versus DC last weekend - our outside backs could use a little help from time to time.
- Force the stupid turnover - Hyndman has stuck with Michel in a holding role, and when he plays well, his passing from deep in midfield allows Dallas to transition quickly to attacking down the wings with pace (see previous point). But when pressured he can be a turnover machine, and will cough up possession in dangerous areas near the Fire's goal. There's no more direct team in the league than Chicago, so they need to force the turnover, then do what they do best - go straight at goal, at pace.
- Avoid the stupid turnover - Egidio Arevalo Rios may not be a creative dynamo, but he seldom puts the team in harm's way by losing possession. Whoever plays in the furthest-back slot of the midfield - either Larentowicz or Pause - must avoid the kind of brain-farts that characterize Michel's game. FC Dallas' attack becomes incoherent and stationary against organized defense; if the Fire can avoid having to play panic-defense in transition, the Hoops will struggle.
- 90 minutes of urgency - One of the black marks against Klopas' Fire teams is their tendency to come out flat in big games. Tonight la Maquina Roja face a reeling Dallas club in a game they need three points from - even if the plan is to stay organized for 20 minutes, see how FCD comes out, and adjust, the snap in both possession and in the tackle needs to be there from kickoff to final whistle.
For Dallas I'll go with Kenny Cooper. For some odd reason he always does well against the Fire, no matter what team he is playing for. With Blas Perez away on international duty, Cooper's role will be as the main man up front to lead the attack for Dallas. Thought he's only scored four goals this season as Perez' understudy, Cooper will definitely be looking to make an impact versus Chicago to bolster the idea that he should be given more of a chance to be the main attacking threat.
For cf97 I'll go with Frank Klopas as the man that can change the match. Frank has to put a strong starting lineup out there that can take the game to Dallas and attack with urgency. It is getting too late in the season to play a counter-attacking game, in my opinion. We cannot sit back and absorb pressure and expect chances to come. Frank and company have to apply the pressure and create their own chances. This is the best way of bringing home all three points back to Chicago and keeping the thoughts of playoffs around for yet another week.
The Fire desperately need all 3 points just to keep having a sniff of the playoff dream. I'm hoping that this game somehow ends up being a blast from the past in the octagon where we see Piotr Nowak finally treating Ariel Graziani like the punk he was, Hristo Stoichkov taking out Richard Farrer for picking a fight with Bob Bradley, and CJ Brown kicking Carlos Ruiz in privates once again. One can dream.
I honestly can see this game being a 2-2 tie as both teams play pretty defensively, although they do it poorly. The Fire will probably get off to a slow start, as they have been known to do from time to time this season, then they will fight their way back to try to get all of the points - but my gut says it will be too little, too late. One hand will firmly grasp the plug that is keeping our playoff dreams from washing down the drain.