The Fire may be simply playing out the string on 2014, but there's still a record to be broken - the Men in Red's next draw will be their 17th, snapping the mark they established in 2011. That's right, sports fans; the next Chicago draw will mean they've split the points in half their starts this year. Of course, it's all perspective, one supposes. 17 draws paired with, say, 10 wins would mean a team running away with the East. Paired with five - as the Fire have right now - it speaks of a spirit more willing than capable.
The chance of that bit of ambivalent history-making stands in the background as la Maquina Roja take the field this afternoon in Houston. Now 10 points off the playoff places with six games to play, the Fire have no realistic chance at postseason, while the Dynamo - two points ahead of Chicago - still feel they can clamber back into the race. Anything other than a win will feel like defeat to the hosts; perhaps the Men in Red can break both a record and Houston hearts by refusing to succumb?
Much of the intrigue from the Fire's end coming into this game involves the makeup of the starting XI. Suspensions to Bakary Soumare (rough play) and Lovel Palmer (yellow-card accumulation) mean that half the starting defense is out for this one. As pointed out in our game preview, the loss of Palmer is particularly concerning against a Houston left that features World Cup teammates DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Davis.
So, so many questions: How will head coach Frank Yallop shuffle the defense? Will younger players get a run-out in a hostile environment? Will Yallop keep together a midfield that has started to gel, or shift some of that group to the defense? And how about the two more-experienced late-season additions, Robert Earnshaw and Florent Sinama-Pongolle? As they are effectively trialists, how much playing time is needed to assess them?
The answers won't be long in coming - lineups should be released in 30 minutes or so. As always, lineups, snark, exultation and despair (as required) will take place in the comments here. WATCH PARTIES, ENGAGE!