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MEGA-PREVIEW: Fire v. 3 Good Teams In 6 Days

This is the week which will determine how CF97 approach the second half of the season - are we in the running, or is it time to rebuild?

MLS #12

When: Sunday June 1st at 3PM CST

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois

Where to Watch: Toyota Park Stands, My50 Chicago, TWCSC Wisconsin

MLS #13

When: Wednesday June 4th at 8PM CST

Where: Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colorado

Where to Watch: My50 Chicago, TWCSC Wisconsin, MLS Live

MLS #14

When: Saturday June 7th at 7:30PM CST

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois

Where to Watch: Toyota Park Stands, My50 Chicago

Hey, What Happened?

Last weekend the Fire travelled to Firehouse East to take on the Columbus Crew and lost 2-0. The Fire looked flat from the opening whistle until the referee blew for the final whistle. Limited to just one good chance and hardly any possession in the middle of the park, the Men in Red were thoroughly beaten as neither the offense or defense could get anything going.

Hey, What's Happening?

This week marks one of the busiest and toughest weeks of the regular season for the Fire, followed by a break from league play while the world turns its attention towards Brazil. Three games in the span of six days, all against good Western Conference opponents - it's a difficult and exhausting stretch against top competition, and the Fire will need to be at their best. Sunday afternoon when CF97 hosts Keane, Donovan and company. On Wednesday, the Men in Red make a quick trip to Colorado to take on the Rapids - always a tough team to beat in their high-altitude home. They finish the week on Saturday June 7 with a night game versus top-of-the-table Seattle Sounders. This three-game swing, in my opinion, will be the pivotal point in the season; the outcome of these games will determine what the future holds for the rest of 2014. Come out of this with one point, and we're near the bottom of the table until July. Mix in a couple wins, and suddenly we're right in it in a densely-packed East.

Hey, What Should Happen?

Normally when trying to predict what happens or what the team should do, I go with my gut in deciding how the Fire should play. But as I stared at the standings (as of 5/30/14) I noticed a trend in the numbers with the teams that the Fire are going to play this week. Let me explain starting with Sunday's matchup with the LA Galaxy.

  • Uncharacteristically, the Galaxy have only scored 14 goals in their first 10 games; but on the other side of the ball, they have only conceded nine, which is best in the league. If you go by the numbers, the Fire's defense should be threatened by the potential of LA's offense but with the Galaxy only scoring 14 goals there may be a chance that the defense can hold them. On the other hand facing the league's best defense may prove to be too much for the cf97 attack who will be missing key pieces to their attack. For the Fire to get three points on Sunday, they will have to find a way to break down the stingy LA defense but at the same time control an attack that will feature Robbie Keane and a determined Landon Donovan since he was left off the USMNT World Cup roster.
  • Moving on to Wednesday's match at Colorado, based on the numbers again the Rapids have scored 16 and conceded 15 in their first 12 games. So based on numbers alone, this game should be a little tougher for the defense (since Colorado has scored more) and a little easier for the attack (since Colorado has conceded more). The fact remains that playing in Colorado is always tough for the Men in Red and has always been that way. The Fire haven't won in the thin air since July of 2009. Colorado feature two of the best young attackers in the league in Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown; they, along with veteran Vicente Sanchez up top, can make the Colorado attack very deadly. Both will be able to give Chicago's defense problems, especially Brown, who has shown has plenty of speed to get in behind backlines.
  • The Fire finish up the week by facing top-of-the-table Seattle Sounders, who bring their leaky defense (21 goals conceded) and the league's most potent offense (25 goals scored) to Toyota Park. Just like the Fire, changes in the backline for Seattle have not worked the way they were hoping. Just like the Fire, Seattle was counting on the new additions to shore up the backline and provide some consistency. Well that hasn't happened, and just a few weeks ago the Seattle backline gave up 5 versus red hot New England. The only thing that has saved Seattle is the fact that the offense is clicking. Clint Dempsey started scoring goals by the bucket loads after a slow start, Obafemi Martins is starting to play like the player he used to be, Lamar Neagle is still providing a consistent spark in the attack and dare I say it? - Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett have both chipped in by netting some important goals.

These numbers show that, for the offense, it gets progressively easier as the week goes on, while the opposite is true for the Fire defense. The fact remains that the only way that the Fire can remain competitive in all three matches finishing Saturday is for Frank Yallop to keep fresh legs on the field. He will have to actually rotate some players in and out of the lineup, which is unlike what we saw from Frank Klopas last season. Yallop will have to find a way to get rest for players like Harrison Shipp, Jeff Larentowicz, Quincy Amarikwa, Jhon Kennedey Hurtado, and Patrick Ianni.

The reason I say this is because this could be the worst time for the injury bug to hit the Fire. Mike Magee hasn't played in two weeks and barely practiced this week; Patrick Nyarko is out for "around a month" due to having surgery on his ankle this week, Bakary Soumare still remains below 100% as does Gonzalo Segares; Alex has been out for quite some time now, and Lovel Palmer is coming off missing last week's game due to injury. Does this mean that we will see players like Victor Pineda and Matt Watson get more playing time this week? Will we see a Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause pairing at sometime this week? Will players like Chris Ritter, Marco Franco, and Giuseppe Gentile make the bench? Will Grant Ward get a full game in at least once this week? These are all questions that Yallop has to figure out as well as how to tactically each team in order to get all 9 points.

Hey, What's Going to Happen?

So this is a very tough week for the men in red and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Missing Nyarko and Magee due to injury will make creating offensive chances that much harder and having to play arguably three of the most potent attacking teams in the league does not bode well for a defense that has been inconsistent at best. For the match versus the Galaxy I'm going to have to go with a 3-1 Galaxy win. Keane and Donovan will prove to be too much for the Fire backline as Juninho will out play Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the park in order for the Galaxy to maintain a majority of the possession. For the trip to Colorado I'll go with a 1-1 tie as both teams will be in the middle of a three-game set. Look for a sluggish, unspectacular showing from both sides as this game could b the one where both coaches look to rest some of their regulars. Finally for the matchup versus Seattle I'll go with a 2-2 draw. It will be interesting to see what lineup Yallop puts out there compared to the other 2 games, but in the end I think defensive mistakes on both sides will gift offensive chances in this one.