The Fire will kick start this busy stretch off this Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids in what should be another gritty battle. The Fire will be at home, which is always a definite plus. They will however be facing a stingy Rapids defense that has only given up 14 goals so far this year. To me this is a game that has a 0-0 or 1-0 written all over it. With the Fire still sitting a robust 10 points out of a playoff spot, the team simply must find a way to win.
Fortunately Mike Magee has been riding to the rescue of late. While I expect his fine form to continue, he's going to need help. Alex and Daniel Paladini have been playing rather well of late in midfield. Given the fact that Lindpere has not, at this point Frank seems to have found something that has been working rather well. Despite his experience, right now Joel is not a starter in my eyes and he shouldn't be in Frank's either. Until he can step up his game to a level worthy of a starting spot, Frank must go with what is working. And hopefully this resurgence in midfield will help spur other players like Dilly Duka to even better play.
After the mid week showdown, the Fire head to Cowtown to take on Columbus. This is always an especially fun trip as a swarm of Fire fans in full voice will descend upon Crew Stadium. While the Men in Red have fared well on the road in Columbus the past few years, we will still be facing a team that is 8 points above us in the standings. And I don't have to tell you that Dom Oduro has been doing some work for them in 2013. 3 points would be huge, and the Fire will have to do it on the road with only a few days of rest.
Finally, Chicago returns home again next Wednesday to continue their quest for a record 5th USOC title. And they will have to do it against a very good USL Pro side in Orlando City SC. Considering they knocked off the Colorado Rapids and most recently Sporting KC in consecutive rounds, they certainly can play with the big boys. This is a very dangerous game for the Fire. While we will see a choice first XI yet again from Frank Klopas, there can be no doubt that fatigue will be an issue which the team will need to overcome.
I think the Fire will end Orlando's Cinderella run, which gives more confidence looking at the bracket. While you never want to look ahead too far and take games/wins for granted, the Fire would play the winner of the New England/DC United match. Certainly another very winnable pairing should it happen. First things first, the Men in Red must concentrate on 6 league points and knocking off an upstart USL team.
Proper roster rotation (and hopefully staying healthy) will be a big key for Frank Klopas. This further emphasizes the need for some of the struggling players to put in a few good shifts this next week. Taking good points out of these games, as well as advancing in USOC play, would be a huge boost heading into the summer window. Failing to do so puts the team in a very interesting position for the July madness. There is no time to let up or take a game off.
Now that the table is set for all the action, make sure you keep coming back all week for match previews, Fireside Chats, and of course the gamethreads and recaps. Let's go Fire!