On Wednesday the Chicago Fire welcome the Colorado Rapids to Toyota Park for the only meeting between the 2 teams this season. The Fire are riding a wave of positive momentum after going 3-0-2 in their last 5 in all competitions and are finding the back of the net more frequently as they are averaging just under 2 goals a game in those 5 games. With the new additions of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee already paying dividends in league and cup play, the Fire look to continue their fine run and secure all 3 points at home versus Colorado before a trip to Columbus on Saturday.
Colorado, on the other hand, was riding a 6 game undefeated streak heading into last Saturday's match versus San Jose but were unable to continue their streak losing 2-1. Although they were playing with 10 men most of the match they were still able to 18 shots off with 7 of them on goal versus the Earthquakes. Sitting 6th in the Western Conference with a 5-5-5 record, Oscar Pareja and company will be looking to come into Toyota Park and steal all 3 points so they do not fall further back from a playoff spot. Since taking over the team in 2012, Pareja has employed an attacking style that saw them miss out on the playoffs in 2012. However, this season the Rapids are pushing for the playoffs despite only scoring 16 goals so far. One thing is for sure, Pareja will have his team playing an attacking style of soccer when they come to town on Wednesday and that should give the Fire defense a test.
The Fire have played well in the past few weeks defensively, only giving up 4 goals in their last 5 games. This doesn't bode well for Colorado as they will be missing a few players (due to injury and suspension). Also, yesterday it was announced that Pablo Mastroeni was traded to the LA Galaxy, which leaves a hole in the midfield. If the Fire can play well for a full 90 minutes and replicate the way they have been playing there is no reason why they shouldn't take all 3 points versus Colorado.
The second year coach Oscar Pareja has certainly shuffled his lineup throughout the season. Whether due to injuries or tactics, he has not used the same formation or starting XI consistently. Also with their 2012 leading scorer, Jaime Castrillon, making his comeback from injury, he may figure in the starting lineup since Atiba Harris picked up a straight red in their game this past Saturday. This is the lineup I think Pareja will go with:
As I mentioned previously, Frank Klopas has finally found a lineup that has been able to produce consistently. However, with the Fire seeing 3 games within the next 7 days, we should see some squad rotation but I have a feeling Frank is going to stick with what has been working for the team. With that said I think he will use his subs early in the match versus the Rapids in order to give key guys some rest. With Duka possibly out due to a concussion picked up in the Open Cup, Lindpere should slot in for him in midfield. Here is what I think Frank will use:
- Wynne vs. Nyarko- This is a matchup that pits the speed and creativity of Patrick Nyarko against the speed and physical play of Marvell Wynne. The 27 year old full back has bounced around the league a bit since being drafted by New York back in 2006, but has found a home in Colorado since 2010. Patrick will find it tough to play against him as Wynne uses his size and speed to take wingers out of their games. The only ways that Nyarko and the Fire can beat Wynne is to overload his side and also switch wingers at certain points during the games.
- Colorado's front 3 vs. Chicago's back 4- Between Brown, Castrillon, and Buddle they have accounted for over half of Colorado's goals for this season. Playing with 3 up top will give problems for the back line of Chicago. It is important that they do not lose their shape and also not make any mistakes such as poor clearances or errant passes. It is also important that Logan Pause track back and give a little help as the Fire's backline could become overwhelmed if Colorado pushes their attackers up in order to apply pressure. The one thing that does help Chicago is that Colorado's leading goal scorer Atiba Harris will miss Wednesday's match due to the aforementioned red against San Jose last week.
I actually have 2 wildcards for Colorado this week, Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers. The 2 rookies have locked up starting roles with the club due to their consistent play. Brown has 2 goals and 4 assists so far this season as he has been playing well up top with Harris and Buddle. Powers has 2 goals and 1 assist on the season as he has become a mainstay in the Rapids midfield. Both of these players have made more of an impact than people have expected, especially as rookies.
For the Fire I'm going to go with the man that is on "fire" and becoming the heart of the team, Mike Magee. In 4 appearances for the Men in Red since coming over from the Galaxy, he has scored 4 goals in all competitions. He is becoming a vocal leader on the team and is starting to gel with all of the attacking players. Look for him to continue his fine run of form although I certainly don't expect him to score every game (even though that would be nice) he should have a positive impact on the offensive side of the ball for Frank and company.
Frank and his men look to stay in the hunt for the playoffs as well as challenge for the US Open Cup. The next week will tell a lot about where this team is going to be later on in season. Having 3 games in 7 days will test Frank's managerial skills and whether he can use effective player rotation in order to keep key players suffering from fatigue. I look for Frank to prioritize keeping fresh legs on the field. I noticed in Colorado's last game that they had a few defenses miscues, which led to chances and goals for the Earthquakes. While the Fire have struggled to put away golden opportunities most of this year, with Magee up top we really need to take advantage of these mistakes. Colorado has not played with the same back 4 in the past few matches, so this is something I feel that the Fire can exploit and use to their advantage. I think they will use player rotation on the field to keep the Rapids back 4 guessing where the attack is going to come from and with this the Fire should take all 3 points. I have the Men in Red winning 2-1 with goals from Rolfe and Duka (provided he plays).