Last week Frank and company went into Houston looking to surprise the Dynamo and walk out of BBVA Compass Stadium with 3 points. Unfortunately that did not happen. Instead the Fire took a point back to Chicago feeling good about the tie but not good enough. After a couple chances from Patrick Nyarko to start the game, the Fire were put on the defensive as Houston dominated the rest of the 1st half. The Fire were even saved by the linesman when the Dynamo thought they had scored the first goal of the match - Bobby Boswell put a header past Fire backup keeper Paolo Tornaghi that came from a second chance off of a corner kick, but the flag was properly shown for offside. Tornaghi made some key saves that also kept the ball out of the net in the 1st half as well.
The second half started the way the first ended, with Houston enjoying much of the possession. Then Houston finally broke the deadlock as Brad Davis broke down the defense on Jalil Anibaba's side, got to the endline and crossed the ball to Cam Weaver who made no mistake from three yards out in the 61st minute. The Fire responded quickly as Nyarko was able to wrestle a 50-50 ball away from Corey Ashe and crossed to Magee, who tapped the ball into a wide open net. Both teams had their chances to take the lead late, but both Tally Hall and Tornaghi stood tall in their respective goals. That is how the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Not the best result, but definitely not the worst result. To make it into the playoffs the Fire have to win these types of games, which evidently brings us to tonight's matchup against Philadephia. The next stop for the Fire's hoped-for playoff resurrection takes place this evening on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Three points from this game is the only thing that matters. No matter how the "Men in Red" get them they have to take all of the points Saturday night if they want to try to squeeze into a playoff spot.
Philadelphia under John Hackworth have been pretty impressive this season and as of late. Since the beginning of June the Union have amassed a 4-1-4 record in league play with their one loss coming away to the Dynamo. Everything seems to be clicking for them at the moment as they look to continue their winning ways and head towards the playoffs.
John Hackworth will probably stick with the same lineup that he has been using during their 4-1-4 run. No serious injuries and all of his players have come back from international duty. Keon Daniel is suspended this week so he is the only player unavailable. More than likely we see a lineup like this Saturday night:
Frank's lineup will probably remain mostly unchanged heading into Philly. The only starters that will differ from the Houston game is Sean Johnson returns to the team after being part of the Gold Cup winning US National Team and if Duka is healthy he will probably start ahead of Lindpere. This is what we should see from Klopas and the Fire:
- Casey vs. Berry/Soumare- I think this is going to be the key to keeping Philly off the board. We have seen all season long that the Fire's weakness has been mental lapses in the back and defending on set pieces. Well Philadelphia picked up one of the surprise players of the season in the off season's re-entry draft in Conor Casey. Many predicted the 32 year old to be on his decline after the past couple seasons in Colorado that were filled with inconsistency and injuries. So far this season it has been far from a decline but more of a rebirth. Appearing in 19 of Philly's 22 games he has managed to score 7 goals and assist on 4 others. He has a large presence tracking back to midfield to win balls and especially on set pieces he is one of the few big men in the league that can dominate any defender in the air. Berry and Soumare are going to have to be spot on with Casey because if he manages to beat them in the air or hold them off so he can get the ball to Le Toux or MacInerny they will make the "Men in Red" pay for their mistakes.
For Philadelphia I'll go with Antoine Hoppenot. Primarily used as a substitute his stats really don't peg him as a game changer. Stats don't say everything a player can bring into a game. He has 3 goals and 2 assists this season but when coming into games in the 2nd half he provides the Union with an injection of energy that disrupts a lot of opposing defenses. The 22 year old is surpisingly fast and has been known to out run many center backs. The energy that he brings reminds me of what Daniel Paladini brings to games. It is something that every team needs and Philadelphia is lucky to have a player like that.
For the Fire I'm going to go with the "Milkman", Sean Johnson. He returns after being th backup for the National Team's Gold Cup run. The one game he did feature for the Nats Johnson looked really good. Coming back to the Fire we should see more confidence from him then we saw from Tornaghi. Granted last week's game was probably the best game I have ever see Tornaghi play in the regular season. Johnson will hopefully continue to be very vocal with his defense and hopefully provides the difference between 1 point and 3 points.
Currently the Fire sit 7th in the Eastern Conference, 5 points behind both New England and Houston for the 5th playoff spot. If the Fire pick up all 3 points and results go their way this weekend they could be only 2 points out of a playoff spot by Sunday night. If they lose versus Philly and results don't go their way #cf97 could be 8 points back and looking at even more ground to make up.
I still don't know what team is going to show up in games like this. The Fire has shown they can beat teams that are sitting outside of the playoff spots, but when it comes to teams that have had some success this season - meaning teams in the playoff spots - it's a different story. They traveled to Houston last week and took a good point back to Chicago with them, but was a point good enough?
The two teams played twice a week apart in mid-May, with each one won by the Union 1-0. Either of those two games versus Philly this season could have gone in favor of the Fire easily. So will this team show up and take care of business as they look to secure a playoff spot?
Since my predictions of late have been close or spot on its time I pick #cf97 to get the much needed points this weekend. I'm going to go with a 1-0 win in an ugly game where Alex steps up and nets the winner.