Another week, another loss, and another game without a goal scored. That's how the Fire have written the book for most games so far this year.. Despite having more chances on goal than the Union, the Fire offense was yet again shutout and looked anemic at times. What looked to be a promising forward pairing from the week before against Philly did not turn up like Frank Klopas had hoped for. It was another defensive lapse that allowed McInerney to yet again slide in between defenders to get his head on to a cross by Sebastian Le Toux. That proved to be the game's only goal. Sound familiar? Yes those two combined for the only goal of the game the week before. So the record for Frank's Men in Red now stands at 2 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie with only 6 goals scored a -10 goal differential. The worst part is that the Fire have only scored in 4 games this season.
Now for the bad news (as if there wasn't enough already). The Fire look to improve their record and goal scoring by traveling to Salt Lake City, a very tough place to play. Back in 2011, the Fire surprised everyone by beating RSL in their home with a hat trick from Marco Pappa. The last matchup between the two teams in 2012 ended in a 0-0 tie. For the past 3 seasons, RSL has been one of the best teams in the Western Conference and 2013 seems to be no different.
Jason Kreis has led them to a 6-5-2 record which puts them 2nd in the West behind FC Dallas. RSL was able to achieve this even with a turnover in the roster that saw key players leave who had been essential pieces the past few years. So far the new additions to the team have not missed a beat through their first 13 games. They are also heading into this game full of confidence after easily beating Chivas USA 4-1 (who destroyed the Fire in late March 4-1 at Toyota Park).
RSL have tended to go with a 4-4-2 formation, featuring a diamond in the midfield. Kyle Beckerman has been that rock as the defensive midfielder in Jason Kreis' team ever since RSL traded for him back in 2007. On the other end of the diamond is Javier Morales, who has also been in Salt Lake since 2007. A couple notable exceptions from the lineup are Alvaro Sabario and Robbie Findley. Sabario and Findley have battled with injuries throughout this season and both look to be on the bench to start the game on Saturday. Other than that their defense has not changed that much. One loss that seems to have hurt the midfield has been the Will Johnson to Portland trade. Luis Gil, who had underperformed since joining RSL back in 2010, has really turned his game around and is now considered a very influential piece in their midfield. So this is what Jason Kreis might go with on Saturday:
Even though I'm kind of in agreement with some of the opinions out there that we should start playing some of the kids, it is still Frank we are talking about. So I think he will go back to the lineup he was using against the Union in their first matchup a couple of weeks ago. I will say this though, with Thompson picking up another red card it is important that Frank keep Pause in the midfield. Unless he wants a repeat of what happened in Montreal that is. Logan is not a defender and he should never be put into the right back spot unless it's a dire emergency. Now that the trade for Soumare has finally happened we could move Anibaba out to right back with Vidiera as his back up. Other than that I would love to see Atouba get some playing time instead of Lindpere. Frank will also have to deal with a growing injury list. Friedrich and Kinney are still out. Santos, Jumper, Paladini, and Atouba are all questionable. Even with these injuries and an US Open Cup 3rd round game to worry about Frank will probably go with this lineup:
- Pause vs. Morales- Since joining the league in 2007, Javier Morales has been a key to RSL's success. Like any other playmaker, almost every RSL attack will flow through Morales. If the Fire are to have a chance at taking any points on Saturday then Pause has got to stop Morales from being that playmaker. Morales, at age 33, doesn't have the speed or quickness that he had when he first joined the league and this is something that Pause can take advantage of. Logan has to close in on him quickly so it will make it tougher for Morales to make those plays that contribute to RSL's attack.
- Gil vs. Fire's outside backs- Luis Gil (who came into the league at the age of 16), seems to finally be living up to the hype that came with him. Primarily coming off the bench in 2012, he has started all but one of RSL's games this season. With the loss of influential midfielder Will Johnson to Portland, Gil has taken Johnson's spot in the midfield and looks to be a mainstay in the RSL midfield for 2013. He has provided 2 goals and 1 assist to the RSL attack so far this season, but it is what he is able to do in the build up to scoring chances that really counts. From what I have seen he likes to start out wide and float into the middle, and he will switch sides from time to time as well. This kind of movement will create some havoc for the outside backs as they will also have to worry about the overlapping runs of RSL's outside backs. If the Fire's outside backs can handle Gil it will make the center backs' jobs of covering the forwards much easier.
For RSL, the player that I would have to go with is Joao Plata. The diminutive forward from Ecuador, who was acquired via trade from Toronto, looks to have found a home in Salt Lake. Featuring in all 11 games played by RSL this season and racking up 1 goal and 4 assists in those games, he will be looking to leave his mark against the Fire. With Sabario and Findley on their way back from injury as I mentioned before, Plata will more than likely start up top. He may be 5-foot-2 but his height shouldn't fool you, he has speed and skill that can give opposing defenses problems. This is the type of player that Chicago should be able to shut down, but if we have our regular mental lapses Plata is the type of guy that can make you hurt.
I said this earlier in the season but I think the only wildcard right now that the Fire can have is whoever gets on the score sheet. Be it Rolfe, Nyarko, MacDonald, the towel boy, or anybody else on the team, the Men in Red need scoring so they can feed of the energy that it would create. For the past few weeks our strikers have created chances here and there with atrocious finishing. If Rolfe puts in a goal versus RSL on Saturday, it may be what he needs to turn his season around and start finishing on a more consistent basis.
Over the past few seasons RSL has proven to be one of the most stable and successful teams in MLS. Any team will tell you that playing at Rio Tinto Stadium and expecting to walk away with 3 points is easier said than done. The Fire are heading in there this week being tied with DC for least goals scored this season and being 2nd to last with a -10 goal differential. I just don't see how Frank and company can go into Salt Lake and get a result. With the way that the offense is not converting their chances and the mental lapses by the defense from time to time, I'm not expecting much from the Fire this week. I'm going to go with an RSL win by a scoreline of 2-0. The best thing for the Fire to do is to play for the tie in this situation and get ready for their 3rd round Open Cup match on Wednesday.