Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Sporting Kansas City #3

A win versus the East's best may require scratching, clawing, poke to the eyes (PHOTO: Brian Kersey/Chicago Fire)

A win versus the East’s best may require scratching, clawing, poke to the eyes, etc. (PHOTO: Brian Kersey/Chicago Fire)

Jon Denham makes his OTF debut and Down the Byline’s Mike Kuhn brings the SKC knowledge for the Fire’s third and final regular season matchup of 2013 with the boys in powder blue…

If following your favorite team over the course of a full season feels like a roller coaster ride, I hope you have properly secured your seat belt, Chicago Fire fan. We’re past that blah start and through the ‘cool part’ that got you smiling and anticipating the next speedy turn. At this point, we’re hoping there are some more exciting twists and turns in our future –- not a replica jersey full of vomit.

The team took 10 points from four matches at the end of July and into August –- all against Eastern Conference competition. They did it amid a shifting roster: Sean Johnson on Gold Cup duty, Anangonó and Rios additions, and the MacDonald subtraction. Then the New England Revolution hosted the Men in Red and put a stop to all of it on Saturday. The turf talk was a bit overblown for my liking, although the drought is hard to ignore. Last Saturday’s hosts probably take all three points if they play in the parking lot based on that overall performance by Chicago.

So now what?

Temporarily off this roller coaster for Friday night are manager Frank Klopas, assistant coach Leo Percovich, and center back Bakary Soumare. Potentially back on board are Patrick Nyarko (concussion) and Chris Rolfe (hamstring).

If ever there was a week on the training field to blend together the best players on the roster, this is it. Nyarko’s and Rolfe’s health and fitness only make things more complicated though. When those two get a chance to blend with Anangonó and Rios, the product on the field should improve noticeably. The depth of the roster and the mettle of those selected to take the field will surely be tested against SKC.

As the team tries to even the season series (currently 0-1-1) with Kansas City, there is no time to waste. The team must get the best eleven players available and healthy and get them out there from the first whistle on Friday night. Unfortunately, that group may not have had enough full practice sessions together during the week.

Kansas City will bring no tactical secrets to Toyota Park. Sean Johnson helped the Fire survive the 0-0 draw and Paolo Tornaghi was a spectator for the Feilhaber half volley and the Zusi cross-shot in early July. They’re bringing three forwards and Chicago’s down a starting center back.

The best news I see ahead of this clash with the Wizards Sporting Kansas City is the last seven MLS regular season contests at Toyota Park have seen the Fire score two, two, two, three, one*, four, and two goals. (*Magee vs. SKC on July 7 to cut the lead in half).

How They Stand in the East

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Chicago Fire SC sits on 31 points, five points behind the final playoff spot currently held by Houston. The game(s) Chicago has in hand on the teams above it will factor into the equation soon. Seven points away are Philadelphia and Montreal. Eight points away are Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls. For now, the Fire must try to catch the team ahead of it – New England – who has 33 points.

Houston is in Montreal on Saturday and the Revolution host Philadelphia on Sunday. The nervous eyes of Fire Nation will be on those two games. Columbus (29 points) gets to take on a midweek-fatigued RSL side at Rio Tinto. The Red Bulls travel cross-country to Chivas on Sunday.

In addition to this weekend’s slate, Houston and KC both have CONCACAF Champions League games looming early next week.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

How close to 100% are Mike Magee, Chris Rolfe, and Patrick Nyarko? Those are BIG questions, because with Rios fit for 90 minutes I’d sure like to see all three available at the same time to benefit from the Uruguayan’s presence in the middle of the field. Magee went all 90 minutes on the turf in Gillette. I’d prefer to see Rolfe go from the start and see what he has in the tank (as opposed to being used as a substitute) alongside Magee — but “Manager” Mike Matkovich should hold a substitute slot for him. No news is probably bad news on Nyarko on his way back from a concussion. He’s listed below as a potential substitute.

According to chicago-fire.com on Thursday afternoon, Hunter Jumper is the frontrunner to get the call alongside Austin Berry. Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares remain wide. In my preferred tactical formation, Duka and Lindpere take care of the midfield width in a diamond with Rios helping to slow down the three-pronged Kansas City attack in front of Jumper and Berry. Alex can be the go-between through the middle on the way to Magee and Rolfe. If Rolfe needs to pull down towards Alex to help chip in with the midfield, so be it.

 

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Projected bench: Tornaghi; Pause, Nyarko (if cleared) or Anangono, Larentowicz, Paladini, Videira, Amarikwa

OTF’s Jon Denham grew up about seven miles north of The Harlem End. He now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, and may be its only resident with the MLS Direct Kick package. Jon’s the Sports Information Director and goalkeepers’ coach at Loras College, and writes some other stuff at Inclusive Beechwood Aging.

Down the Byline with Mike Kuhn

The big question this week for Sporting heading into Friday’s match against Chicago is the injury situation. The “wonderful” exhibition that is the MLS All-Star game saw KC end up losing Graham Zusi for what could now be the fourth straight league game if he misses Friday. And while long-term that will be good, you don’t want to force him to return too quickly. His absence has been noticeable on the field the last few games for Sporting.

The other loss is that of Kei Kamara. Kamara missed last weekend’s game after an injury he picked up against New England. He looks set to miss his second straight game this Friday as well.  In San Jose last week the absence of those two really hurt Sporting. It left Soony Saad as the main creator on the wing and without a body like Kamara on the back side, KC couldn’t do much with the chances he was able to create.

(photo: sportingnews.com)

(photo: sportingnews.com)

Friday’s fixture continues a busy stretch for KC. After traveling to San Jose, they’ll now go to Chicago before a trip to Honduras for a game next Tuesday, then return home to play Colorado on the 31st. No rest for the weary at this point of the season, so making sure that Kamara and Zusi are ready for the stretch run isn’t the worst thing, although it hurts in the short-term.

OTF friend Mike Kuhn is the author of Down The Byline, one of Kansas City’s finest independent soccer blogs. Follow Mike @downthebyline

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City
Friday, August 23rd at 7:30pm cst
Nationwide television broadcast on NBC Sports Network
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

#cf97 Nation

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