We've gone into some mild hysterics over the roster situation heading into this game; we'll not get into that again today. Suffice to say that, if you were to pick three players whose offseason acquisition has paved the way for the Fire's evolution into a side that can sparkle as well as grind, it would be the three Chicago are missing this evening: Shaun Maloney, David Accam, and Joevin Jones.
It's not like the cupboard's bare, certainly, even with two top-level attackers missing. Kennedy Igboananike's growth into form has been a lovely sight, and Harry Shipp will doubtless be given the keys to the offense, but how will the Fire play? When soccerheads talk about 'width,' they're talking about what the combination of Accam and Jones provide to the Chicago shape - a sort of field-distortion in the defense's thinking, a gravitational well of off-center concern whose wobbles can be exploited by a schemer like Shipp. With both the usual left-siders gone, no one else on the roster can play in a similar way from that side.
One possibility is staying with the system that's been working, but playing an athletic forward in the Accam role, which means either Quincy Amarikwa or recent acquisition Jason Johnson. This would likely mean that Michael Stephens would slot in on the right side as a pinched-in supporting midfielder. One assumes the deep midfield pairing of Razvan Cocis and Matt Polster will remain untouched, as will the starting centerback duo of Adailton and Jeff Larentowicz. The usual solution, in the absence of Jones, has been for Lovel Palmer to start on the left and Eric Gehrig on the right.
Should the tactics get changed, expect the Fire to roll out in a 4-4-2 that'll put the 'bog' in bog-standard. Look for the Revolution to attack mercilessly whichever side Shipp lines up on, which will mean our resident seer could spend the game chopping wood and carrying water.
None of which even addresses the Fire's traditional difficulties winning on turf, and there's plenty of reason for pessimism. But football's a weird old game; it's just possible that a 4-4-2 is just the thing, and provides the Fire with the stable base necessary to launch counterattacks. One thing's for certain: The Men in Red will find the field more congested for the loss of Accam and Jones. Getting a result tonight will likely be a matter of gutting out stretches and finding magic at the right moment.
One final subplot is the continuing rest of Sean Johnson. Will the Milkman get the call for the first time in four games? Jon Busch was arguably responsible for the first Orlando goal, getting caught coming out on a corner which led to Adailton's desperate cover.
The talk, as of late Friday, was that Juan Agudelo is in town and available for this match. If that's the case, New England will only be missing Jermaine Jones. Of course, 'only' missing Jones changes the way the Revolution play a great deal, much like Accam's absence affects the Fire - Jones splits the difference on the Revs' two styles, the swashbuckling 4-1-4-1 and the more pragmatic 4-2-3-1.
The attacking group are all familiar names. Agudelo and Lee Nguyen are the headliners, with Kelwyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury more than capable support. They've even got an inspirational former national-team striker in Charlie Davies. It's an impressive group of American-grown talent.
Without their German powerhouse roaming central midfield, the Revolution will more conservative pairing of Andy Dorman and Scott Caldwell will sit back in front of defense. Behind them are a pair of potential MLS Best XI centerbacks in Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell. But whatever the talent level of the defense - and it is fairly high - the results haven't been appreciably better than the Fire's: New England has surrendered 20 goals, same as the Men in Red.
Kickoff is slated for 6:40 p.m. CDT. This is tonight's OMNI-THREAD: Please feel free to use it as a gamethread. Lineups posted as soon as the good ship Twitter brings word from Boston.
TV: CSN Chicago
Streaming: MLS Live