When: Saturday July 12th at 6:30PM CST
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts
Where to Watch: My50, TWCSC
Hey, What Happened?
Last time we saw the Fire in league play, they shared the spoils in a a 1-1 draw at Kansas City. During that game we saw defensive mistakes on both sides, spectacular play by goalkeeper Sean Johnson, and missed chances from the Fire attack. Dominated in all facets of the game, the Fire were forced into bunker mode during the second half of the game after a defensive mistake from both sides gifted each a goal. The Men in Red were able to hold on to the draw mainly due to Johnson's excellent work in goal (eight saves, a couple of them spectacular). Any other time this road point would be a moral victory - but to a team that only has two wins through the first 16 games, draws are not enough to excite anyone. One point per game is not going to get the Fire into the playoff race.
Hey, What's Happening?
The Fire finish a grueling span of four games in 11 days with a trip to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution. Both teams will be hungry for all three points; these teams combined have not won in league play in 10 games (six for the Fire and four for the Revs). The Fire currently sit 4 points out of a playoff spot while the Revs are 5 points out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are looking to crawl back into the playoff picture; three points in New England would do wonders to make that happen. The Revs are looking to get their form turned around and keep a tight hold on a playoff spot. Both teams will be at the halfway point in the season after the match Saturday night - but what will be the talk on Sunday be? Will the Fire be close to climbing into a playoff spot, or will they still be adrift near the foot of the table?
Hey, What Should Happen?
Keep their heads down: The Fire must take advantage of the fact that New England's form has been horrible as of late. New England was one of the hottest teams from the mid-April to the end of May, winning 5 straight games to lead the East. Then it all fell apart on May 31 when they lost to Montreal 2-0. Since then the Revs have not won in MLS play. Their high-flying offense (which averaged more than three goals a game during their 5-game winning streak) has only managed to score two goals in this four-game losing streak.
The Fire have to be cautious but at the same time take advantage of an offense that has hit a brick wall and can't figure out how to recapture the form they once had. If the Fire's defense is able to limit the amount of chances as the game goes on it will do wonders for confidence as they have only a single clean sheet this season. This could be a turning point for the team's defense as long as they can hold the Revs attack.
Rotate for freshness: It is imperative that Yallop use all of his substitutions and possible use them sooner rather than later. Why do I say this? With only 20 outfield players available for selection, and practically the same lineup playing in the previous three games, fatigue will set in fast. It will be important to keep fresh legs on the field in order to create offensive chances and also to keep New England's offense quiet.
If you look at some of the numbers from the previous three games in terms of minutes for key players this is what it looks like: Shipp with 270 minutes, Ward with 260 minutes, Palmer with 225 minutes, Magee with 211 minutes, and Soumare with 205 minutes. Those are five players that have logged plenty of minutes over the last week and a half.
With the season at the midpoint there is not going to be many opportunities for rest as the Fire close out July and head into August. The Men in Red kick off this stretch with a home date with Philly on July 19, then travel to San Jose on July 23, followed by the Tottenham friendly game on the 26th, then home on the 30th versus Vancouver and August 2nd against Columbus. That's another five games in a span of two weeks - granted, the Spurs game is a friendly - but still, the Fire are not in a great position to rely on the same starting lineup and expect to climb into a playoff spot.
Hey What's Going to Happen?
So you ever get that feeling of a trap game? Well I think this is one of those games. Both teams played midweek in the US Open Cup quarterfinals, Chicago is winless in league play in their last 6 and New England is winless in their last 4 in league play, and the Fire just won their first game on turf since 2011 on Wednesday.
I'm going to have to go with a 2-1 loss for the Fire this weekend. Yallop used a strong lineup for Wednesday and did not give some of his regulars any rest considering that the game versus the Revs will mark the 4th game in the last 10 days. Fatigue will catch up to the Fire and playing on the plastic stuff will make matters even worse. I hope the Fire get a full 3 points out of this one but the way that it is shaping up I just don't see it happening.