Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Sporting Club Kansas City #2

Fire hard man Jeff Larentowicz will have his hands full once again come Sunday afternoon. (photo: espn.go.com)

Fire hard man Jeff Larentowicz will have his hands full once again on national television. (photo: espn.go.com)

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick and Down the Byline’s Mike Kuhn take a look back and a look ahead at Sunday’s battle between two teams that don’t like each other very much…

Chicago Fire never says die.

A 3-2 result at home against San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday marked yet another come-from-behind win for the Men in Red. Currently on a nine-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, Chicago is the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, and arguably the league.

Remarkably, the Fire has yet to lose a game since the arrival of Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia Union and “Magic” Mike Magee from LA Galaxy. Add to that a young Dilly Duka rounding into form and the once ice-cold Chris Rolfe finding the back of the net, and you’ve got a squad that now looks like a playoff competitor.

But we shan’t rest on our laurels Fire Nation. There’s no rest for the weary…

Last time the Fire took on KC, Frank Klopas decided to park the proverbial bus in Chicago’s half of Sporting Park. Back in mid-March, the gaffer’s back line was decimated and his front line had yet to find the back of the net. To Peter Vermes’s dismay, Klopas’s triage tactics worked to great effect as Chicago hung on for a 0-0 draw and almost stole a win in stoppage time when Daniel Paladini came up just short on an excellent look at goal.

Classic Vermes pose. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Classic Vermes (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Here’s coach Vermes moaning after his high-octane attack failed to score at home against a packed-in Fire squad:

“There’s nothing you can do when a team drops nine guys within a 24-yard space. It’s always going to be difficult to hit the back of the net but I thought that we at times were very dangerous around the goal…So if we come across a lot of teams that want to play that way over the course of the year and we perform the way we did, we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Meh. SKC’s sitting at 7-5-6 at the moment and are not the team they once were.

Flap on flapper.

But for the Fire, that was then and this is now. And now is certainly much better than then. Wouldn’t you agree?

This weekend’s rumble at Toyota Park is a statement game for the Men in Red. While the Fire has indeed been unbeatable (7-0-2) for six weeks now, its wins have come at the expense of poor to middling league foes (DC United, Columbus (twice), Colorado, and San Jose) and third division sides (Charlotte Eagles and Orlando City).

Sunday’s is a MLS Game of the Week on ESPN and marks an opportunity for Chicago Fire to show and prove to a national television audience (and itself) that it can become a playoff-caliber side. How? Beat one at home. 

Carpe Diem, Klopas.

Moving on, let’s have a look at the Eastern Conference table:

table

Very, very interesting stuff here for Chicago Fire.

New England moved into 6th place after it handled San Jose 2-0 in Foxborough. Philly didn’t do the Men in Red any favors, as Houston downed the Doop 1-0 in the Oven at BBVA to hold onto 5th place.

So, with a win on Sunday afternoon Chicago has an opportunity to:

  • Distance itself from 8th place Columbus
  • Go even on points with New England
  • Pull within three points of SKC
  • Close its gap on 5th place to two

The scenario above seemed like a pipe dream a mere six weeks ago, yet here the Men in Red stand, poised to jump into the playoff mix. Also of note is the Fire will have one or two games in hand on the clubs in second through fifth place come Monday morning, regardless of the outcome vs. SKC.

Starting XI, Tactics, & Injuries

As noted in OTF’s opponent and tactical preview, Patrick Nyarko’s battling a tight hamstring — a precarious condition for any soccer athlete. While a banged-up Nyarko is always a matter of concern for the Fire, it’s perhaps more problematic given the nature of SKC’s weakness.

Because of their pressing, attacking nature, opponents can have success wide on the flanks against Sporting when they use pace to push the ball to the byline and get behind its defense. If full back Seth Sinovic can’t go on Sunday, this makes SKC even more vulnerable to speedy counterattacks.

Given that Chicago has a congested July schedule, it may be wise to sit Nyarko for this one. If this happens, a plodding Joel Lindpere may not be the best choice to replace Patty on the wing. As our own Stephen Mangat noted, a better move might be to put Chris Rolfe out wide and pair Maicon Santos up top with Mike Magee.

In the long run, the Fire need a healthy Patrick Nyarko if they’re to move into and hold a playoff position. With all the minutes he’s logged this season, along with all the bumps and bruises he’s endured too, Sunday looks like an opportune time to rest Chicago’s adroit Ghanaian.

So that said, here’s this armchair manager’s starting XI:

fire 442 vs skc july 13

Based upon his fine performance last time out at Kansas City, I’m going with Daniel Paladini over Alex. If Big Red needs a breather, or the Fire needs an offensive injection, Alex will come on and switch the double-pivot at center mid.

In the end, this game will be a physical battle that will take Chicago (especially the defense) to its limits. Unlike on the road back in March, this Fire squad will not be employed to pack it in defensively. They may adopt a counterattacking posture, but new-found weapons will preclude Klopas from parking the bus.

Over the past two seasons, Sean Johnson has arguably been the sole reason the Men in Red have earned results against Sporting. All things equal (and they’re really not), Paolo Tornaghi must take his game to another level on Sunday if the Fire are to earn three points in front of the home crowd in Bridgeview.

Down the Kansas City Byline with Mike Kuhn

Heading into this weekend’s match in Chicago, Sporting KC is at a critical point in its season. So far in 2013, the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations of many. They haven’t been getting the results at home they should have with the environment at Sporting Park. However, the stout defense that carried KC much of the last two years has shown some cracks after enduring injuries, national team call ups, and bit of a drop in form.

The offense however, it seems, is finally beginning to click. Kei Kamara has begun to really jive with Claudio Bieler and the rest of the squad after missing time while on loan in England to Norwich City. This has caused KC to look more dangerous than ever going forward this season. That said, they still struggle with a problem they’ve had for a few years now — getting a number of shots, but not putting nearly enough on goal or into the back of the net.

The Cauldron. (photo; bigsoccer.com)

The Cauldron (photo: bigsoccer.com)

The midfield is where the biggest issues remain for KC. Sporting has continued to struggle in the center of the park after replacing Julio Cesar and particularly, Roger Espinoza. Their respective departures have KC’s midfield style.

Instead of a player sitting deep like Cesar did, KC’s midfielders have rotated who sits and who attacks. But, that has changed a bit in the last two games, as Lawrence Olum has come in to sit deeper and play the Cesar role.

Overall, this team has shown they’re good enough to make the playoffs, but they’re not the favorite that many people saw them as at the beginning of this season.

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 Club Kansas City
Saturday, July 7th at 2:00pm cst
Live TV broadcast on ESPN
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

Tickets still available here!

First 7,500 fans get the Austin Berry bobblehead!

#cf97 Nation

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