When: Saturday August 23rd at 6:00PM CST
Where: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario
Where to Watch: My50 Chicago, TWCSC Wisconsin
Hey, What Happened?
Last Saturday the Fire headed up north of the border trying shake off the stink of an embarrassing 6-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders in the semifinal round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. After a display that brought into question the efficacy of "The Kings of the Cup" title, the Fire were looking for a rebound MLS win to prove their relevance and creep up into playoff contention. What better club to face to achieve the goal than the last place Montreal Impact? In a failed effort to prove to the French Canadian squad that "our Frank is better than yours" the Fire dropped results to the last place Impact on a late goal by Marco Di Vaio. The Fire were in such denial about the results they didn't even bother to post the recap of the match to the schedule history on http://www.chicago-fire.com/schedule, and are still as of 8/22/14 linking to bus tickets to the event. Even though the Fire still rest comfortably above the Impact in the Eastern Conference, it sure feels like the Fire are in last place.
Hey, What's Happening?
The Fire once again travel north of the border through the vast Canadian wastelands and take on a club from our neighbors to the north. This time the Fire take on Toronto FC. In other word the Fire take on a club that has demonstrated that it IS in fact possible for a MLS club to be 2nd to last in the Eastern Conference one year and become relevant in the next year by signing a few high profile designated players. Hint. Hint.
The last time these two clubs locked horns was July 2nd at Toyota Park in an unmemorable (you guessed it) 1-1 draw to kick off the forth of July holiday. This time the Fire have to face a competent Toronto side on their Canadian home (quite literally) turf. Toronto sits in 3rd place with 32 points in the Eastern Conference just two point ahead of the Columbus Crew and desperately want to hold on to the safety of 3rd place where they can avoid the 4th-5th place elimination match in the playoffs. Expect Toronto to fight hard for results in front of the home crowd.
The Fire sit in 9th place 3 points behind the 5th place New York Red Bulls at 25 points with 3 other clubs in between them and the playoffs. The Fire desperately want a win. It is almost aggravating that despite the result of last week, point-wise, the Fire are actually not far off the pace. The Fire will need to do some serious convincing to the fan base if they expect us to believe a playoff spot is possible.
Speaking of the fan base, Fire fans will be present at BMO Field in force. Part of the Section 8 Away Season Tickets program, Fire fans will be carrying their passports to the Canadian border and traveling north by the bus load. Expect Fire faithful to be present in in the away section countering the home advantage.
Hey, What Should Happen?
It’s about the kids stupid. The Fire need to try something different this week and playing the veterans each week, especially in the attacking midfield and on the wings, is not currently working. I expect Frank Yallop will finally realize this week that something has to give. Its time to give Benji Joya another shot on the first team and to give Grant Ward a chance at increased minutes. If the fear is that they will not be prolific enough on the attack I would argue that they can't do much worse than what we have seen over the last week from more experienced players. Let’s see how these kids can combine with the efforts of Harry Shipp. Would it have made more sense to give these players a shot last weekend against the weaker Montreal side? Sure. However, the Fire have gotten to the point in the season where it is abundantly clear that the current squad cannot threaten at the MLS level so let’s see what we have to build around for next seasons rebuilding project.
Defense will be key in this match. Sean Johnson will need to play the part of the titan we know he can be. Chances are going to get through the line but if Johnson is on his game they will not get in the back of the net. I expect Captain Jeff Larentowicz to be moved back to center back to play the roll of safety stopper. Bakary Soumare will need to put up a dominating performance such as the one he did versus New Jersey if the Fire are going to prevent a Toronto win. With Jermain Defoe back in the line-up, the Toronto attack will be very potent. Expect Defoe to combine with Gilberto Oliveira Souza Junior on the attack giving the Fire backline trouble throughout the match. It will be important for the back line to avoid the fatal mistake, especially as tired legs reach the late minutes of the match.
Michael Bradley will likely control the tempo of the midfield distributing pass after pass up field to the Toronto play makers. He will also send the ball to the wings where the legs of Dominic Oduro will be used to speed the ball through the midfield and past the retreating backline. The Fire will need to apply pressure constantly and work to break up plays before they get started. They will need to challenge the Toronto midfield before the attacks get started, all without drifting out of position. They will have to be able to retreat fast under pressure by Oduro’s attack. Perhaps we’ll see a bit more of Sanna Nyassi so the Fire have some legs of their own?
The Fire will likely get their first look at forward Robert Earnshaw, even though he is unlikely to get the start since he had limited training with the club after moving to the US. With Mike Magee’s attack looking lazy and ineffective and since Quincy’s (Amarikwa) time seems to have passed a new forward in the mix could not have come at a better time. I expect very little from Magee and Amarikwa Saturday but I am cautiously hopeful that Earnshaw holds a grudge against his former club who let him go in their rebuilding. Perhaps he can stick one passed the Canadian squad?
I expect the Fire to have very few opportunities to score so the key to the match will be making opportunities count.
Hey, What's Going to Happen?
Do I really need to answer this question? The Fire’s offense is brittle and fleeting and Toronto’s is hearty and thick, much like each countries respective bacon. With the Fire handing the USOC to the Sounders B squad last Wednesday and dropping a league match to the last place Impact Saturday, it would be difficult to predict anything other than a Fire loss in this match. The deep Toronto midfield will likely pass circles around the inconsistent Fire midfield. Toronto will use speed on the wings to turn the Fire back line. The attacks will come from every part of the pitch and shots will eventually get through to the back of the Fire net, despite Sean Johnson's defensive efforts. The anemic Fire offense will fight to even get the ball into the box but might manage one goal on either a set piece or a penalty. I predict a 3-1 loss to Toronto.
Special thank you to Adam Merges who, while traveling, allowed me to replace his usual thoughtful analysis with my snarky commentary.