The Chicago Fire hope to keep their momentum moving in the right direction after posting positive results in their last two matches, following a 3-2 win over Los Angeles Galaxy (August 1) and a 0-0 draw with Red Bull New York (August 8).
The good news: there is room for improvement. The reinforcements have been provided to coach Carlos and his staff. Now the real challenge begins. The talent and personal are assembled but now this group has to pick up points, in their quest for the MLS playoffs. The big issue, will be how quickly this group comes together as a team, on and off the pitch.
This Wednesday will hopefully be a nice parting gift for Fire fans. After the New England match, the Fire travel to Houston and Seattle, and don’t return to Toyota Park until a September 4 rematch with the Galaxy. The Revolution will be a nice test going into that match.
Head coach Steve Nicol has the Revs playing their best soccer of the season. Unbeaten in their last eight matches overall, outscoring the opposition 9-2. The Revolution have done it with defense, while scoring has been a challenge – hitting the back of the net just twice during the run of play over their last eight MLS matches. The club will look to their new Serbian connection up top, with Marco Perovic and Ilya Stolica to begin providing the offensive spark.
Last Saturday night, Nicol’s men picked up their lone strike from Stolica in the club’s 1-0 win over Houston. Keeper Matt Reis kept things tidy with his third shutout, making his sixth start between the sticks since his surgery. Pat Phelan has been playing solidly, and Shalrie Joseph looks a lot better then when these clubs last played back on June 27th in New England.
If the Chicago Fire take a peek at the Eastern Conference standings, they’ll have no lack of motivation heading into Wednesday night’s clash. Tied with New England at 21 points apiece, the Fire have played two less matches – the club has played at least two less matches than every other MLS team so far this season and now is the time to make their move. Some are saying that 40 points is the silent goal for clubs fighting to gain entry into the MLS Playoffs. So they need to pick up the pace a bit for the final fourteen.
With the acquisition of Castillo, Ljungberg, and the reacquisition of Gonzalo Segares, this club has a deeper and more diverse attack. As they round into form, the competition to get on the pitch, will be fierce. I fully expect to see noticeably improved performances from the guys who have already been here for awhile. Nothing like the crack of competition to get the legs moving, and motivate the group.
Its going to be crucial for the Fire to keep their patience and stick to the plan. This club has had trouble scoring at times, now they have more firepower. Be patient and take what the match gives you. Expect the ball to be kept on the floor more, and when things don’t work out, don’t automatically launch it downfield. Cherishing possession of the ball, is a message that seems to be sinking in.
Finally, the Fire need to payback their 21-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson. He has been brilliant in his first two MLS starts, especially versus New York, picking up his second consecutive NAPA Save of the Week honor. His reflexes are amazing, a few stops were difficult to decipher, until viewing about four or five times on replay. So now lets give the kid some more help. Chicago was outshot 16-2 in the second half against New York. This match quietly has more pressure for the Liburn, GA product. The first two games, he wasn’t expected to win but this a home game with more expectations then the first two. It’s a match they are expected to win and he has been busy his first two starts. Now he may battle the mental challenge of maybe not touching the ball for awhile. It will be another superb test for the young keeper, and the new and improved Chicago Fire.