One thing's for certain - if the Fire do finally claim their first win of the season this evening, we can say they did it the hard way. Tonight's opponent, Real Salt Lake, are living up to their odd cross-cultural moniker to this point in 2014: The MLS Cup finalists are the league's lone unbeaten team, sure, but are also arguably the model franchise in the league - MLS royalty.
Don't like that assessment? Salt Lake's season point totals since 2010: 56, 53, 57, 56. The Fire's in the same span: 36 (-20), 43 (-10), 57 (0!), 49 (-7). They've got the league's first residential academy program. All of this in a media market that ranks just below Columbus and just above Milwaukee.
That said, there's plenty of reason for the Fire to believe that three points are theirs for the taking this evening. Salt Lake has won only once in eight previous trips to Chicago, and is fresh off the kind of late-game meltdown that Fire fans have seen drag their team down in previous years. And the trend of the Fire's play, despite the lack of wins, has been steadily upward. The Men in Red have shown they can create chances consistently, and have been defensively resilient in the run of play.
Curiousity abounds about tonight's CF97 starting lineup - the loss of Quincy Amarikwa after a (ridiculous) red card against New England means the starting XI must change. One option is to keep the shape stable and start Juan Luis Anangonó in a like-for-like swap; especially against the rugged Salt Lake backline, el Serpiente's physicality could be an asset.
Another option would be to start Mike Magee alone up top and insert another midfielder. Benji Joya showed well early in the season, but has been shuffled back in the pack in the center of midfield. Matt Watson could surely help the Fire control the midfield - where, absent help from the wings, they will be consistently outnumbered. And Victor Pineda should've scored his first career goal in stoppage time against New England.
Looks like Frank Yallop chose 'yes, and,' from the above, sitting Alex in favor of Joya while sliding in Anangonó up top:
Jeff Cassar hasn't raised any eyebrows with an unchanged XI:
If you're watching at home, feel free to agonize, exult or mutter here in comments. Contributor Ruben Tisch, also of Far Post Radio, will be manning the Hot Time twitter feed during the game.