Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Colorado Rapids

(image: mlssoccer.com)

(image: mlssoccer.com)

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick and his favorite Pid Army soldier preview Wednesday’s inter-conference MLS clash at Toyota Park…

It’s been a long, long time since these two clubs met.

Ready for a time warp? 444 days ago, Frank Klopas put out a Fire side at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park that looked like this:

Don't rub your eyes. It's not that old. (image: mlssoccer.com)

Don’t rub your eyes. It’s not that old. (image: mlssoccer.com)

That’s right folks, only five players above remain. Of those five, only one (Gonzalo Segares) currently plays the same position. Interpret these facts how you’d like.

The Fire got handled 2-0 way up high on that sunny day in Denver on April 1, 2012, but their foes from Colorado didn’t go on to fare too well last season, amassing a 11-19-4 record (37 pts., -6 GD) and winding up in the Western Conference’s #7 hole, just above the lowly Timbers and Goats.

But that was then and this, well, is now. And as long as we’re talking about change, there’s plenty of it in the Rockies these days too.

As a point of comparison, here’s what Colorado looked like the last time they played Chicago:

rapids 11 2012Of the fellows above, the Rapids managed to keep seven, but last Saturday’s starting XI vs. San Jose only featured Moor, Wynne, and Mullan, with the latter slotted at right back.

So what does all this mean? Well, aside from the argument that both clubs are of the middling sort due to roster instability and injuries, not much I guess.

That said, despite their hardships, both Colorado and Chicago are hanging tough at the moment and seem to be on the verge of ascendancy in their respective conferences. The Rapids (5-5-5, 20 pts., +2 GD) have defied the odds it seems and find themselves hot on L.A.’s tail (level on points) for the 5th playoff spot in the West. The Fire (3-7-3, 12 pts., -8 GD) have had a rougher go of it, but are unbeaten in their last five across all competitions, including a 2-1 dispatching of Columbus at Toyota Park last Thursday in U.S. Open Cup competition.

Of the two squads, Chicago has a tougher mountain to climb. Although they’ve two games in hand on fifth-place Sporting Kansas City, the Fire remain ten points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and at a disadvantage when it comes to tie-breakers. Given the facts, it’s no stretch to say that Frank Klopas and company must find a way to win on Wednesday night against a tough, but beatable foe. If Chicago is to enter the postseason, dropping points at home is no longer an option.

READ: Know Your Enemy – Colorado Rapids

With the impending summer transfer window quickly approaching, “Silly Season” in Bridgeview has begun anew. The latest (semi-substantiated) rumor? Carlton Cole, a 29 year-old striker recently released by Premier League side West Ham United, appears to be interested in donning Fire red.

With Chicago on the prowl for a true compliment to “Magic” Mike Magee up top, the big Englishman (6’3″) may be the target Frank Klopas and company are looking for. Then again, maybe not. Cole scored 47 goals in 206 matches over eight seasons with the Hammers — not the type of production that gets anyone in the know too excited. Why do I smell Sherjill MacDonald part deux?

NOTE: The Rapids had a tough go getting out of Denver Tuesday due to severe weather, which could play a factor in their performance on Wednesday night.  

Starting XI, Tactics, & Bench

Expect Frank Klopas to roll out a full-strength starting XI vs. Colorado, as he needs the three points. The following 4-4-2 should be on offer:

fire 442 vs colorado

Tactically, the gaffer should come out of the gate flying in this one, as his boys are properly rested. If the Fire can get and protect a lead, Klopas can, in turn, spell three players and limit their minutes.

Looking ahead to the weekend, while it’s a tough call, the Fire should play its reserves and rest its starters vs. Columbus. Normally, and especially considering the Fire’s position in the standings, you’d rather not risk dropping points to a conference opponent who is also chasing a playoff spot. But, there’s a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal to play next Wednesday, and the Fire should keep their eyes fixed on that piece of silverware right now.

Rapids dossier by Comrade M

After a slow, injury-laden start to the season, an increasingly healthy Colorado side started May with a win that sent them on their way to a six-match unbeaten streak in league play. Unfortunately, that streak ended this past weekend with 2-1 loss at home to San Jose, but it was an instance where a draw really would have felt like a win; the Rapids had a low-key start to the match, but came back to fight hard ‘til the final whistle. Expect Colorado to bring a fighting spirit to Chicago this week, as they hope to regain momentum by earning a result on the road.

The Rapids appear to be on the upswing. But the fact that there have been times this season when the squad saw up to nine of its starting XI on the injury list has lingering effects that, luckily, are mostly positive. Having to dig deep into the roster has given some of Colorado’s young talent a chance to prove themselves in ways they probably wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, and they’ve stepped up in a big way.

Third-string-turned-starting-keeper Clint Irwin has been absolutely incredible. Chris Klute has been impressive defensively, but also has three assists on the books. Rookies Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers are now vital to Colorado’s offensive strategy.

5280. (photo: coloradorapids.com)

5280. (photo: coloradorapids.com)

Pair its increasingly confident young talent with vets like Martin Rivero and Jaime Castrillon returning from injury and eager to make an impact, and the Rapids look like a hungry team ready to put up a fight. I’m not sure how much the criticism coach Oscar Pareja faces over this week’s departure of Rapids legend Pablo Mastroeni impacts him, but I’m sure three points on the road would help.

READ: Trash Talk Wednesdays – Fire vs. Rapids

With regard to what you can expect to see on the pitch Wednesday night, this is a team in flux. Few players have a guaranteed start, but I expect a 4-3-3 similar to last weekend’s match:

Irwin in net, resolute and gutsy; an always-where-he-needs-to-be Brian Mullan at right back, super-speedy Marvell Wynne and captain Drew Moor in the middle, and solid Chris Klute on the left; a physical Hendry Thomas [NOTE: Thomas was suspended yesterday for a reckless challenge vs. San Jose and will miss the Chicago game], Dillon Powers, Nathan Sturgis midfield (although, depending on his fitness level, it’s possible Rivero will start, probably over Powers or Sturgis); Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle up top, possibly with Jaime Castrillon getting his first start of the season.

That starting XI breeds confidence in Colorado fans. And while Coach Oscar Pareja will serve a suspension and watch from a suite, that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. You’re not in for a walk in the park, Chicago.

Emily Ainsworth is OTF’s favorite Pid Army soldier and Colorado expert over at Total MLS. Follow her @comradeM

Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids
Wednesday, June 19th at 7:30pm cst
Live TV broadcast on Chicago’s MY50
La radio en Español : La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

Tickets still available here

#cf97 Nation

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