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13 October 9:10 am

With only one Chicago Fire player away on international duty, this could have been a very short international wrap.

Taking a different angle, my aim is to show the international nature of the current roster by recapping how all of the first team player’s national sides did in World Cup qualification Friday night…

Uruguay – Called back to Uruguay for the first time in a while, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez was an unused sub, watching from the sidelines as a Lionel Messi brace led Argentina to a 3-0 win over La Celeste in Mendoza.

Flaco and Uruguay remain in fourth place in CONMEBOL qualification and will hope to rebound on Tuesday when they travel to La Paz for a match against second from bottom Bolivia.

USA – The Fire’s American contingent might have been biting their finger nails much of Friday night as Juergen Klinsmann’s side eeked out a late 2-1 victory at Antigua & Barbuda. Making his first national team appearance since 2010, forward Eddie Johnson nodded the U.S. ahead in the 20th minute before Antigua’s Dexter Blackstock equalized five minutes later.

With the U.S. looking disjointed for much of the second half, Johnson would reward Klinsmann’s confidence in him by heading home U.S. debutant Alan Gordon’s 90th minute cross to give the American’s a 2-1 win.

That victory combined with Guatemala’s 2-1 win over Jamaica (in which former Fire midfielder Marco Pappa played 68 minutes) means the Americans and los Chapines sit tied on 10 points and need only a draw against each other on Tuesday for both teams to advance to next year’s final round hexagonal.

Costa Rica – In the Group B rubber match, Fire defender Gonzalo Segares got an early birthday present as Jose Cubero’s 31st minute goal stood to give Costa Rica a valuable 1-0 victory away to El Salvador.

With the win, los Ticos return to San Jose needing only to defeat a lowly Guyana side that has taken just one point from five matches in order to advance.\. Costa Rica defeated Guyana 4-0 during their earlier group game played in Georgetown.

Mexico – Already qualified for the final round, Pavel Pardo and Guillermo Franco might have looked on Friday night to see Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta, Andrew Guardado and Angel Reyna strike to help Mexico batter Guyana 5-0 in Houston.

They’ll close out the semifinal round Tuesday night against El Salvador in Torreon.

The Netherlands – Former Dutch youth international Sherjill MacDonald may or may not have watched as Rafael Van der Vaart, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Reuben Schaken eased the Dutch to a 3-0 victory over Andorra in Rotterdam.

The victory keeps Holland with a perfect nine points through three matches in UEFA’s Group D ahead of the team’s visit to also perfect Romania Tuesday in Bucharest.

Germany – Arne Friedrich was probably grinning from ear to ear Friday afternoon as Die Mannschaft demolished the Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin. Germany got braces from Marco Reus and Toni Kroos as well as single strikes from Miroslav Klose and Mesut Oezil in the win.

Sitting alone atop Group C with a perfect 9 points from three matches, the Germans return to face second-place Sweden in Berlin on Tuesday.

 Italy – Paolo Tornaghi’s Azzuri had a little trouble in the first half but eventually overpowered Armenia 3-1 in Yerevan. Andrea Pirlo put the Italians ahead with an 11th minute penalty before Henrigh Mkhitaryan equalized in the 28th, taking the teams into the break at 1-1.

Italy would respond with two goals in the second half through Daniele De Rossi (64’) and Pablo Osvaldo (82’) to earn the three road points.

The victory keeps the Italians on top of UEFA Group B with seven points ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Denmark in Milan.

11 October 12:24 pm

Bring the Fire, the club’s 2013 season ticket renewal program, isn’t all fun and games as you might expect.
 
As you know, the club has been sending a group of spirited individuals to houses in the Chicagoland area and surprising each season ticket holder with a gift for renewing their tickets prior to November 1.
 
Well, despite the happy faces on Fire supporters everywhere, we’ve been busted.
 
In coming up with the idea, we may or may not have borrowed the name of our merry gang from a certain Publishers Clearing House group that rhymes with “Size Parole”.
 
Seeing as we are law abiding citizens here at the Chicago Fire, and we didn’t want to let down all those supporters who are hurriedly rushing to renew their season tickets so that the team with Sparky, balloons and big checks would potentially come to their house we have decided to rename the “Eyes Condole” as the, wait for it…
 
RADICAL REWARD FOR RENEWING YOUR CHICAGO FIRE SEASON TICKETS PATROL  
 
We may or may not have had to overdub a few of the videos to appease some fancy lawyers in New York.
 
You never know, maybe the RADICAL REWARD FOR RENEWING YOUR CHICAGO FIRE SEASON TICKETS PATROL will show up to your house next.

09 October 11:27 am

In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with rookie defender Austin Berry. Since being drafted in the first round ( 9th overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Austin has become a mainstay in the Chicago Fire defense, starting 26 consecutive matches for the Men in Red and scoring three goals along the way to help the Fire secure their first playoff berth since 2009. The Rookie of the Year front-runner from Cincinnati, Ohio, Austin was a standout at the University of Louisville where he helped the Cardinals to their first ever NCAA National Championship appearance in 2010. Austin took the time to answer our Burning Questions about Berry-themed nicknames, his prowess on the basketball court and the Berry family Halloween tradition.
 
Always on the Inside:
What is the worst Berry themed nickname you’ve ever had?
 
Austin Berry: The current one that Arne [Friedrich] has given me, “Jerry Berry.” The origin is unknown, so is the spelling.
 
AOTI: The Irish Harmonica champion is also named Austin Berry. Do you play any musical instruments?
 
Jake Bronowski, Massage Therapist: Is there a difference between a regular harmonica and an Irish harmonica?
 
AB: Maybe theirs goes up and down. Instead of left and right, they go up and down. But no, I don’t play any instruments. Absolute no.
 
AOTI: You lettered in basketball from 2003-2005 at Summit Country Day. Can you still ball?
 
AB: I’m an awful basketball player. I just played for fun. I had no jump shot. I was a defensive specialist. I was in there for rebounds and defending. But I had fun. It was fun because my junior year, my last year, five of the starters from the soccer team were the five starters for the basketball team. It was something that I did personally to stay in shape between club soccer seasons.
 
AOTI: In an era of fluorescent cleats, you rock white ones on game days. Why is that?
 
AB: Those are the ones that have metal studs. And because it’s classy.
 
AOTI: You haven’t grown your goatee out in a while. Are you mellowing as you get older?
 
AB: I can’t really grown facial hair. The goatee takes me a good four weeks before it actually comes in and it’s not even a good one at that. So when it comes out, it’s just me being too lazy to shave for a month.
 
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
 
AB: I’m not big on dressing up, I’m just big on candy. As long as I get enough candy, I don’t need to celebrate it. I love candy. Mambas and Shock Tarts are my favorite.
 
AOTI: What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
 
AB: I know the worst ever Halloween costume is my parents had a tradition of dressing their kids up as a purple grape and attaching a bunch of purple balloons to you so you were a grape. That was always one of our Halloween costumes and it was awful. At a certain age, we all had our purple grape stage. It was young, before we could make decisions for ourselves.
 
AOTI: What do you make for dinner if you’re looking to impress Martha Stewart who is stopping by the rookie crib?
 
AB: If I was impressing her, I would order delivery, put it in the oven then take it out. But I like making Teriyaki salmon with stir fry.
 
AOTI: What’s the theme song for the “Austin Berry: Rookie Year” reality show?
 
AB: “Sail” by AWOLNATION.

09 October 9:04 am

It’s not every day you can bump into Ante Razov, Hristo Stoitchkov, Zach Thornton, Lubos Kubik, Peter Nowak and Frank Klopas all within the matter of about five minutes, but that’s exactly what happened to me at Monday’s 15th Fire Anniversary Celebration.

In all, the alumni in attendance along with the current players in the room combined for 3,569 competitive games and 64 championships for the club.

The names above were just a smattering of the nearly 20 Fire alumni that returned for the special occasion. Rubbing elbows with all the dignitaries in the room gave way to perhaps the most important part of the night where Fire a number of the guests in attendance spoke to the Tradition, Honor and Passion of the club and worked to inspire the current roster for greater things to come.

Rousing numbers were given by Jesse Marsch, Hristo Stoitchkov (with great translation from Denis Hamlett), Peter Wilt, Brian McBride, Diego Gutierrez, Peter Nowak, Julian Posada, Frank Klopas and Chris Armas.

It was the last two who perhaps had the most touching moments.

A hometown guy, Klopas pointed to the teams and people that laid the groundwork for soccer in the city of Chicago ahead of the Fire before drawing attention back to the special accomplishments of the inaugural 1998 double-winning team that he was a part of, saying “This group of guys was special and I see many similarities between them and the guys we have right now. We aspire to great things and that means bringing another championship back to this city.”

Finishing up the proceedings, Armas looked to the alumni to his right then pointed to the current roster and simply said, “All of us assembled here are behind you. Go and win a championship.”

What a night indeed.

Kudos to Section 8 Chicago and specifically the 15th Anniversary Committee for pulling together a night no one in the Fire family will soon forget. Check out select photos below...

08 October 11:28 am

Gentlemen, start your playoff beards.
 
The Fire’s big 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls Saturday afternoon combined with the 1-1 draw between the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City Sunday ensured that the Men in Red would be participating in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs.
 
With 56 points on the season, the Fire sit just three points behind conference-leading Sporting KC. Chicago Fire Confidential’s Guillermo Rivera took a look at the remaining schedules for each of top six teams in the Eastern Conference.   
 
Though MacDonald’s brace Saturday afternoon played a huge part in clinching a playoff berth, the former Dutch youth international said that he had “mixed feelings” after the victory as Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to Philadelphia still weighed on his mind. “We should have played the same the same way as today against Philadelphia, and we would have won easily.”
 
Now that a playoff spot has been secured, German defender Arne Friedrich can look at the losses against Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union as a bit of a blessing in disguise. “I’m happy we lost before the playoffs start because in the playoffs there is no room for losing games.”
 
While the entire Fire squad played exceptionally well on Saturday, Friedrich and MacDonald led the team with Player Ratings of 8.
 
Is there a better way to celebrate the Fire’s return to post-season play than with 400 of your closest friends? The final count is in and the October 8th Anniversary Planning Committee announced that more than 400 attendees will celebrate the Fire’s 15th Anniversary at the Chicago History Museum Monday evening.

08 October 8:57 am

One hundred and forty-one years ago today, the Great Chicago Fire set the city ablaze, destroying 3.3 square miles of the city.

Writing for the Chicago Tribune, a man named Michael Ahern reported that Catherine O'Leary's cow started the blaze by kicking over a lantern in the family barn at 137 DeKoven Street.

Other rumors surfaced it was the fault of Daniel "Pegleg" Sullivan, the first person on the scene of the fire who ran to free the animals from the barn before awakening the O'Learys. Still others place the blame on Louis M. Cohn who had admitted to have been gambling in the barn with O'Leary's son.

Whatever the case, all three names are enshrined in Chicago lore for the event that destroyed a large part of the city that immediately built itself back up again.

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club

One hundred and twenty-six years later, after a number of attempts at professional soccer in the city of Chicago with the Cats, Mustangs, Sting and many others, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was born at the city's iconic Navy Pier.

With the name derived from the city's defining event, the Fire had an immediate, built-in tie to the community. Just over a year later, the tradition of success began as the Fire clinched an unprecedented expansion MLS and U.S. Open Cup double. 

Much like O'Leary, Sullivan and Cohn, names such as Peter Nowak, Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Diego Gutierrez and many others wrote their names in Fire history that year and in those to come.

Sunday afternoon the above five names plus a guy named Hristo Stoitchkov took part in a celebratory Alumni match with Section 8 Chicago and Wisla Chicago at Toyota Park (PHOTOS).

Watching the game was like old times, seeing the guys connect like it hadn't been over a decade since they all last played together. A 46-year-old Stoitchkov put on his usual magic, connecting with a brace while Razov tallied a third.

Tied at 3-3, the game went to penalty kicks where Razov, Stoitchkov, Gutierrez and Nowak all converted to give the combine Legends/Section 8 team the victory. 

A little over an hour later, the club got a great anniversary present as the final whistle blew in Columbus with the Crew and Sporting KC playing to a 1-1 draw, pushing the Fire into the playoffs for 12th time in 15 seasons. 

Tonight, the above names will join the likes of Chris Armas, Zach Thornton, Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp, Evan Whitfield, Dasan Robinson, Kelly Gray, Andy Herron, Mike Sorber and Denis Hamlett and 400 members of the Chicago Fire family to celebrate 15 years of Tradition, Honor and Passion at the Chicago History Museum. 

Happy Anniversary to all! 

05 October 10:10 am

After dropping their last two games, the Fire travel to New York Saturday afternoon to face a Red Bulls team that has only lost at home once this season (LIVE at 2:30pm CT on NBC 5 Chicago). The Fire had their worst performance of the season on Wednesday night against Philadelphia while New York demolished Toronto FC last time out. That being said, both teams are level in the standings with 53 points and will be looking for a win in an effort to catch Sporting KC at the summit of the Eastern Conference. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical standpoint.

When you have it, keep it: ball retention

In the Fire's last two games, the team failed to keep hold of the ball for long stretches, often gifting it back to their opponents. Against the better teams, this can be a nightmare because it means that you have to defend wave after wave of attacks. Against Philly on Wednesday night, players were making misplaced passes all over the field and it prevented the team from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm.

Maintaining possession is important in any game but especially in matches away from home. The Fire could deploy a similar tactic to the one used in Kansas City last week, namely, getting the ball to Sherjill MacDonald and relying on him to hold the ball up and wait for support. Against KC though, the team were unable to get MacDonald the ball enough and on many occasions gave it away in the process.

If the Fire play the same way against New York, they must get the ball in to MacDonald's feet because not doing so will only hand the possession to Red Bull.

Center backs: beware of getting stretched

Fire color commentator and former defender Evan Whitfield made an excellent point in Wednesday night's game after the Union's first goal. He noted that center backs  Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry were not close enough together, leaving a gap between them which Jack McInerney exploited to perfection on the first goal. The same thing happened against the Montreal Impact a few weeks back when Marco Di Vaio got in between the center backs to score.

Unfortunately, these are not the only two instances of this happening this season and its something the team needs to address. There is no one explanation as to why this is happening but there are some ways of limiting its negative effects.

We all know that Arne Friedrich likes to roam forward from time to time in an effort to help the attack. When this happens, the Fire need to be wary and drop one of the defensive midfielders into the back line if they lose possession. Also, when a ball is played in behind the outside defenders, it forces Berry or Friedrich to go wide to pick up the runner, leaving a space in the middle. When this happens, the outside back or someone else has to drop into the space left vacated.

Thierry Henry: picking him up when he drops deep

It may sound cliche, but the Red Bulls are a much, much better team when Thierry Henry is in the starting eleven. He single handidly tore Toronto FC apart last weekend, tallying a goal and three assists in a 4-1 victory.

Henry is a converted winger and still loves to move out wide, pick the ball up, and run at defenders. He did this on countless occasions against Toronto and was not dealt with. When he goes wide, the Fire must not drop back and allow him to run at defenders.

Henry also likes to play the "false 9" role, dropping into the middle of the field, to pick up the ball and then either take players on or look for a killer pass into the space he just vacated. This is a role that Chris Rolfe often plays for the Fire.

The other problem that Henry gives teams is that he draws so much attention away from his teammates, often leaving them with acres of space. Its a very tough balancing act, but the Fire must find a way to limit Frenchman's effectiveness while at the same time not allowing players like Tim Cahill and Kenny Cooper to go undetected.

Set pieces - the fewer the better

One of the things not mentioned in the last paragraph about Henry is that he takes almost all of New York's set pieces and is especially good at corners, often putting the ball into very dangerous areas.

Though the Red Bulls have many smaller players in their starting eleven such as Dax McCarty and Connor Lade, they also possess some who are genuinely dangerous in the air in Wilman Conde, Kenny Cooper and Markus Holgersson. Another player famous for his aerial ability Tim Cahill. The Aussie scored countless headed goals for Everton before signing for the Red Bulls earlier this season.

Though he hasn't made as big of an impact as most were predicting, the Fire coaching staff will be very disappointed if the teams allows the Red Bulls' biggest threat to hurt them on Saturday afternoon.

Limiting New York to only a handful of set pieces will be crucial for a positive Fire result

Prediction: Fire improve tenfold from Wednesday night to earn a deserved point with a goal from Sherjill MacDonald.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

05 October 8:57 am

With the Chicago Fire chasing their first post-season berth since 2009, MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg says that the Fire vs. New York Red Bulls match on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. (NBC/97.5 ESPN Deportes) is the most meaningful match between the two clubs since 2000.
 
MLSsoccer.com’s Three for Thursday took a look at the top three previous matches between the Fire and New York.
 
Prior to Saturday’s match, Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko and defender Austin Berry took part in a Google + Hangout to discuss the match and answer some quirky fan questions.
 
While no one wants to dwell on the 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union Wednesday evening, it was a special night as the club celebrated its 15th Anniversary by welcoming back Fire legends Chris Armas, Peter Nowak and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who were honored at halftime.  
 
Armas said that under Frank Klopas’ tutelage, the Fire now seem like the Fire squads of old. “It’s an honest, hardworking, passionate group. It has team written all over it.”
 
In honor of the 15th Anniversary, the Fire teamed up with Bumpy Pitch, the authorities on the  soccer lifestyle, to create a limited edition t-shirt that features the Municipal Device, an iconic symbol of Chicago.
 
The shirts are available at the Chicago Fire Fan shop and on www.bumpypitch.com with $5 benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.
 
While everyone is amped for Saturday’s showdown with the Red Bulls, it will be extra special for rookie defender Austin Berry as he will celebrate his 24th birthday on Oct. 6. The club recently teamed up with Quaker Oats to create a special Life cereal box in an effort to garner attention for Berry as the chase for the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year crown heats up.

PR and marketing guru Joe Favorito called the campaign “a great example of old school grassroots outreach, smart and effective partner activation…a great gauntlet to be thrown down for MLS best practices.”
 
The #Berry4ROY cereal box also made its way to the small screen, where it made its TV debut on Windy City Live (11:25 mark).
 
Make sure you tune in to the marquee matchup of the weekend as your Men in Red take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. CT on NBC and check out this promo video to hold you over until then.

04 October 3:37 pm

On Tuesday, the final three players of the #Fire15 list presented by TrueCar were unveiled. Like any list that involves a bit of democracy, there was a bit of good debate who or who shouldn’t have been included among the players deemed the top 15 in club history. Having voted multiple times myself this past summer, I don’t think I ever came back with the same 15 players…

With that in mind, I thought it appropriate to take a look at seven guys that you could make a strong case to be in the 15.

Hristo Stoitchkov – One of two players on my Fire15 list back in July that didn’t make the final tally, Stoitchkov was perhaps the most high profile player ever to wear the Fire badge when he was in Chicago from 2000-02. The “Mad Bulgarian” known for his exploits with his country at the 1994 World Cup and Barcelona would go on to record 24 goals and 22 assists in 71 matches, starting only 40.

The legendary attacker scored a number of highlight reel goals but his most important would come when he tallied the first goal in the team’s 2-1 win over Miami to clinch its second U.S. Open Cup title in 2000.

Jim Curtin – If there ever was an unsung hero with the Fire, it was probably Jim Curtin.

The tall defender with the curly, blonde locks didn’t at first look a player that would go on to appear in an understated 186 competitive matches for the club from 2001-07.

Equipped with an infectious personality, the Fire fan favorite would go on to win two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporter’s Shield and was named the 2004 Fire Defender of the Year.

Diego Gutierrez – Though might not have known much about it at the time, Gutierrez was the scorer of one of the biggest goals in Chicago Fire history, with his 45th minute redirection of Peter Nowak’s strike in MLS Cup ’98.

Having done two stints with the Fire from 1998-01 and 2006-08, Gutierrez was often a constant in the Fire midfield, amassing 197 games, 10 goals and 34 assists (good enough for fifth all-time) while being part of four of the club’s six domestic titles.

Just as important though were Gutierrez’s off-the field contributions. The seven-year Fire veteran was named the club’s Humanitarian of the Year three seasons in a row from 2006-08 as well as winning the league-wide award in 2007 for his work with the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign. 

Damani Ralph – There are few rookies that have been as successful as Damani Ralph was in 2003 when he tallied 14 goals across all competitions and helped the club to the 2003 MLS Supporters Shield, U.S. Open Cup (where he scored the winning goal in the Final) and an appearance in MLS Cup.

The following season the Jamaican international joined his strike partner Ante Razov as the only other player in club history to tally double digit goals twice, recording 14 more to lead the team in 2004.

Following two successful seasons in Chicago, Ralph moved to Russian club Rubin Kazan always leaving Fire fans to wonder would could have been had he stayed with the Men in Red just a bit longer…

Gonzalo Segares – The Costa Rican international was the other player on my list that didn’t make the cut. One of the top defenders in club history, Segares just recently appeared in his 200th game and has owned the left back position since joining the club in 2005.

Also one of the most attack-minded defenders all-time in MLS, Segares sits behind only Lubos Kubik in offense created by Fire back liners, tallying 12 goals and 16 assists across all competitions.

Josh Wolff - Another one I wrangled back and forth with, Wolff is the club’s third all-time leading goal scorer with 39 and adds to that 19 assists over just 106 games.

The last remaining active player from the 1998 double-winning team, Wolff and Razov formed one of the most dangerous striker partnerships in the league from 1999 to 2002.

Having won an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups, Wolff also holds the distinction of being the only player in Fire history to tally four goals in a match, doing so in a 5-1 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal victory over Dallas in 2000.

03 October 7:46 am

After a tough loss on Friday night in Kansas City, the Fire are looking to get back into the race for first place in the Eastern Conference when they face the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park on Wednesday night. Philly are also coming into the game on the back of a loss, going down 3-2 in Columbus last weekend. Though the Union are out of the Playoff race, they will be looking to play spoiler and stop the Fire from moving into second in the standings.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical standpoint.

Combination plays: Stopping Philly from playing their game

After John Hackworth took over head coach halfway through this season, he has tried to get the Union away from the long ball game if possible and move towards keeping the ball on the ground and moving forward through short, quick, pass combinations.

In the first 60 minutes against the Columbus Crew last weekend, Philly worked this to perfection, gliding through the Columbus midfield on many occasions by moving well off the ball and limiting the amount of touches taken. Even though they were the away team, they enjoyed a lot of possession but for all of their pretty play, they created only a few chances. It was only when they got the wide men in behind did they cause any real damage.

WATCH: Matko's Take on Philadelphia

 

Against the Chicago Wednesday night I can see coach Hackworth deploying the same tactic but it will be up to the Fire to disrupt this as much as possible by trying to impose their game of high pressure, something that was missing against Kansas City Friday. The more the Fire can force Philly into kicking it long, the more it will take them away from their possession-based game plan.

Stopping the super sub: Antoine Hoppenot

Rookie Antoine Hoppenot has been the Union's go-to-guy when the team is looking for a spark in the attack this season. He is clearly more comfortable coming off the bench and single handily turned last week's game against Columbus in the Union's favor after coming off the bench by allowing Philadelphia to play more direct.

Hoppenot is a defender’s nightmare -- a player who is always on the shoulder of the last man and never stops pressuring the back line when he enters the game. He took full advantage against a tired Columbus defense last week, earning a penalty kick and making some brilliant runs in behind the defense. He especially likes to make runs behind the outside defenders, something the Fire were guilty of allowing Kansas City to do too often last week.

When the French striker inventively makes his appearance from the subs bench Wednesday, the Fire cannot allow him to influence the game as he did last weekend.

Fire attack: getting Fernandez more involved 

Though the Fire sat back for the most part on Friday and looked for balls to be played up to Sherjill MacDonald, the team did find some success when “Flaco” Fernandez was able to get forward and support the more advanced players.

Due to Pavel Pardo's injury, Alex has been playing in a much deeper role and must put his defensive duties ahead of his desire to support the attack. Alex's new role has also put more emphasis on Flaco Fernandez to help out in the attack as much as possible. When he did go forward against Kansas City, it resulted in some of the Fire's best chances.

Playing back at home, I expect the Fire to be much more adventurous in attack and this will mean that Fernandez will be given more license to get forward than he was against KC where he was forced to track back for a lot of the game. Fernandez has found himself in some brilliant positions this season, and if not for some lackluster finishing, he would easily have double the amount of goals he already has for the Fire. His forays forward could be the difference against the Union on Wednesday night.

Left back: A familiar face returns

Friday night’s red card to Gonzalo Segares means we will almost certainly see fan favorite Dan Gargan back in the starting lineup for the first time in 11 matches. Gargan is the first sub off the bench if anyone on the back line is injured and the team has relied heavily on his versatility, especially with the many injuries to Fire defenders this season.

That being said, the Fire have been quite lucky to avoid injuries to the back line in recent months and the team's discipline has been excellent this season with minimal suspensions. All of this means that Gargan has started in 17 games this season but none since late July at San Jose. Getting him minutes is very important, especially heading towards the playoffs where the format is longer, meaning a greater chance of someone picking up an injury or suspension.

We all know about Gargan's defensive abilities but against the Union at home, he will be encouraged to push forward and contribute to the attack. How well he combines with the Fire's left winger (assumed to be Patrick Nyarko) will be important. A good performance by Gargan Wednesday would also make a statement to coach Frank Klopas of Gargan's intent to win back a starting place as we enter the most important stretch of the season.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Fernandez.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.