Every time the Fire meet Seattle, it's a bitter lesson in the primacy of timing in every success story. The Chicago Fire were once on the verge of the kind of success that the Sounders now enjoy, with many of the same factors - rabid supporters, a big-budget team with world stars, a home in an NFL stadium. But the Fire's ascension came too early, in a league that was scared of its own shadow; a decade before American masses clicked on the idea of supporter culture, cost control seemed the only path forward - and thence began the search for a stadium, a search that led the club to Naperville en route to Bridgeview.
We were so close. It's hard not to be bitter.
Despite a host of negative externalities - growing supporter unrest with ownership and a lengthy 'Out' list among them - the Chicago Fire , now 20th in a 20-team league, have every reason to believe they can win tonight's game against the high-flying Sounders. The Men in Red will be missing a whole lot of experience - captain Jeff Larentowicz and 30-somethings Shaun Maloney and Adailton are out - but has longtime stalwarts Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko back in contention, cushioning the impact of those losses. Seattle, meanwhile, will be missing Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Brad Evans, Marco Pappa and Stefan Frei. If the Fire are to ever get a result against the Rave Green - a team they have never beaten - tonight seems as likely as any.
What I'll be watching for
Where does Harry Shipp start? If David Accam is healthy - and he told Ghanaian news outlets he was ready to play early in the week - than the possibility of Harry playing in the middle grows greater. Yallop's insistence on playing Harry on the wing, even as the team's fortunes sink lower and lower and the Homegrown looks visibly dispirited, is verging into the territory of coaching malpractice. Please, Frank, do everyone a favor and start Harry in the middle of the attacking band of a 4-2-3-1. Please? Give the kid the keys. It's past time.
Who plays in central defense? With Larentowicz and Adailton ailing, the central defense will be a pick-two between Eric Gehrig, Ty Harden and Matt Polster. Assuming Yallop wants Polster in midfield, that means Gehrig and Harden - both intelligent centerbacks who can play on the flank. This won't be a thuggish defense, certainly. [EDIT: This story says that Harden is still battling a hamstring injury, so it looks like Polster will get a run-out in defense again.]
How will the Fire play? The Men in Red began the season playing increasingly efficient possession football, but that idea seemed to die when Michael Stephens injured an ankle. The Fire have increasingly favored playing directly since then, an approach that seems almost custom-made to guarantee a loss against the Sounders, who feast on quick transition after turnovers. Can Chicago remember how to keep the ball today?