My parents have spoken: Last week, the Fire stunk.
Mom: So we watched the game last night. The Fire didn't look too good.
Me: I know, they have been this way for the entire season - very mediocre and inconsistent.
Dad: They haven't been mediocre, they stink. Last night they stunk.
Me: That's another way of putting it.
Mom: I hope you didn't buy playoff tickets because the way they are playing that would be a waste of money.
Dad: They really need someone that can create like when Blanco was here.
Me: Yeah, I know. Hopefully they play better next weekend.
This coming from a 70 year old that has watched soccer his entire life, was responsible setting up a youth league in northern New Jersey, coaching some of those teams, and also he was a ref for 25+ years. My mom used to coach a high school girls team in New Jersey before they moved to Chicago in 1980. They make it to a few games a year and always try to watch the Fire when they are at home.
In one line my dad was able to summarize how the Fire played in Columbus: "Last night they stunk." I'm not going to relive the debacle of what happened last Saturday, because it was one of those games where the Fire seemed like they couldn't do anything right. From mental lapses in the back, to a non-existent offense, to a coaching staff that had no answers to what was happening. After the game I felt sorry for those in the cf97 nation that made the trip all the way out to Columbus to watch that garbage.
As for this week the Fire will once again be playing for their playoff lives as they welcome the Montreal Impact to Chicago. This is shaping up to be one hell of a match as both sides need the full three points. Montreal are on a two-game losing skid and do not want to slip further behind New York and Kansas City. The Fire are (once again) outside of the playoff spots; if they don't get a result Saturday night there is a possibility that they can slide all the way back to eighth in the Eastern Conference. A win for the Fire would help them immensely as they look to climb back into the playoff picture.
Marco Schällibaum is dealing with a couple injuries to that impact (no pun intended) his starting XI. With Nelson Rivas and Hernán Bernardello both likely to be out, this is what we will probably see Saturday night from the Impact:
So with a healthy Chicago roster and only one player not available due to a red card suspension(Soumare), Frank Klopas has an ENTIRE ROSTER choose from. Frank - being Frank - will probably start the almost the same lineup as last week. Rumblings around cf97 nation are that Frank is thinking of starting Larentowicz at center back instead of Jumper - Sean Spence also wrote about it in his "Words About Shapes" this week. In all honesty, if that happens, then I will have to say that the gaffer has lost whatever faith he had in his reserve players. If Jeff gets moved to center back the lineup would look like this, because Frank cannot play a formation without 2 holding midfielders:
- Arnaud and Bernier vs. Rios and Pause (if he starts) - Last week versus the Crew, the Fire were pretty much non-existent in the center of the park. Tchani and the Crew had their way with any midfielder wearing a Fire jersey who wandered into the middle of the field. As Mark O'Rourke mentioned in his Post-Match Chalkboard, there was next-to-no passing coming from the center of the field in the offensive half for the Men in Red. This has to change against Montreal. Arnaud and Bernier are both good holding mids that have no problem linking the d-line with the attackers. With Felipe more than likely given the freedom to roam behind Di Vaio, controlling the center will be even more important.
- Fire wingers vs. the temptation to whip in crosses - The Fire cannot also rely on simple crosses to make plays. For years now, the Fire have been one of the shortest teams in the league and has had little to no aerial threat when crossing from the wings. It's nice to have the size of Anangonó in the middle, but our strength has been attacking from the wings by dribbling hard outside-in, carrying the ball from the touchline towards the penalty area. It worked versus New England a couple of weeks ago, and it also worked the last time these two sides met at Toyota Park back in August.
For the Impact I'm going to go with Justin Mapp. Yep, that's right, the former Fire midfielder. This season has been one of his better seasons in the MLS. In 22 appearances so far, he has 2 goals and 7 assists, one shy of career highs in each. He has become a regular starter for the Impact as of late after a spells of bad form which lasted most of the first half of the season. We all know from his time in Chicago that he can provide excellent service from the wings and can create offense on the ground. The problem while he was here was that he only could play about 65 minutes before fatigue would ruin his game. That has changed - he has not played less than 80 minutes in a league game since July 13th. I would look for him to start on the right side lining up across from Gonzalo Segares. Sega should know that Mapp likes to cut into the middle to get the ball onto his favored left foot; once he does so, he can provide good service or shoot on goal.
For the Fire, one player has to show up and dominate this week: Mike Magee. He disappeared versus Columbus as he tried to create some kind of offense but nothing was happening. This is the type of game that can add to his clutch reputation by stepping up when the team needs him the most. With the aging Impact defensive line, this may be a game that Magee and his partner up front can sprint past the backline. Magee has to have a positive influence on the game, otherwise we may be overrun - just like we were in Columbus.
According to Sports Club Stats, the Fire have a 30.8% chance of making the playoffs. That number can fall drastically if the Fire are unable to pick up all 3 points and other results around the league do not go in favor of cf97. Eastern Conference teams 4 through 8 are separated by 5 points and that number could be smaller by Sunday night. If the Fire are unable to beat Montreal, and the Revs (vs. Houston Saturday) and Crew (at Dallas) both win their games, the Fire could be sitting in eighth place in the East, four points out of a playoff spot.
So Saturday night's game is crucial if Frank and company want to at least match last year's finish by squeaking into the playoffs. My concern is, what team shows up? Is it the team that takes the game to the Impact and doesn't stop attacking and applying pressure? Or is it the team that sits back and tries to work the counter as we have seen too often this season?
Like I said earlier, this game could turn into one hell of a game, but I have a feeling that it will be a dud. (My feelings in the past have been way off, so hopefully this is one of those times). I have a feeling that Frank will start Big Red in the back and bring in Logan Pause to the center of the park, which will force a very defensive look for the Fire. This will allow Montreal plenty of time with the ball to create offensive chances, even if 'the Milkman' Sean Johnson has one of those games that keeps us in it, it's easy to imagine it won't be enough for all three points.
I'm going to say there will be a share of the spoils - the game will end in a 1-1 tie that will leave the Fire knocking on the playoff door, asking for someone, anyone to let them in.
- Something I read over at ESPN Soccernet that might explain why sometimes I hate this game.
- I know this is a couple weeks old, but Dave Rowaan from Toronto FC blog Waking the Red took an in-depth look at possession and how it relates to winning in the MLS. Take a look at cf97 compared to the rest of the league - it is disturbing.