Today should be the start of a telling stretch for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. Coming off two disappointing road losses, this club must stop giving away matches in the final minutes. With just 11 matches remaining, they must regroup and fight for their playoff lives.
Logan Pause summed up the result in Seattle perfectly as “gut wrenching”, but perhaps the recent road adversity and the urgency of the playoff race will motivate the Men in Red. Dropped results against Kansas City, Colorado, and Seattle have been difficult to recover from – just from those three games, the club has left five points on the field.
As first assistant coach Mike Matkovitch reminded me this week at training, “With those missed points, we would be sitting at 29, looking pretty good right now.” Now the heavy lifting begins with Los Angeles Galaxy in town this afternoon at Toyota Park.
Chicago will be without Deris Umanzor and Marco Pappa who are away on national team duty with El Salvador and Guatamala respectively. Freddie Ljungberg will also be out due to yellow card accumulation, as he suffered his fifth caution last week in the Seattle match.
The good news, Wilman Conde returns from yellow card suspension after his absence was noticeable in the 2-1 loss at Seattle. CJ Brown played one of his stronger matches in the Emerald City, but having the mainstay Conde back in the mix will help settle things down. This club has experienced a lot of changes recently, so it’s a nice advantage for the coaching staff that one of your fiercest competitors and best defenders in MLS will be back for Chicago.
It was also nice to see the veteran John Thorrington back, and immediately paying dividends with his penalty kick strike last week in Seattle. He expressed his graciousness to the coaching staff, for showing confidence in him and letting find his way. Even JT seemed a little surprised at how good he felt considering he has been frustrated by injury for the last five months -- there didn’t seem to be much rust on the fiery midfielder.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson should have plenty of good vibes with the Galaxy visiting. He made his MLS debut against LA back on August 1 and the humble 20-year-old first flashed his brilliant athletic skill just two minutes into the match, stopping league-leading scorer Edson Buddle from close range. The Fire would go on to score three goals in the first eighteen minutes, and hang on for a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Sean says that he is getting more comfortable each match, as the routine sets in, and this will be the first opponent that he is seeing twice in his young career. On the flip side, the Galaxy have now seen the big kid from Georgia once, so they have a better scouting report as well.
For LA Galaxy, it’s been a tail of two seasons. The start was amazing, but they have come back to earth recently. Last week losing 2-0 in Carson to the resurgent Kansas City Wizards. Coach Bruce Arena felt that his club was outplayed in the scrappy affair versus the Wizards. So expect a more inspired effort from his Galaxy.
Stopping Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan will be a nice challenge, Buddle leads the league with 13 goals, and Donavan is tops in the assistant department with 11. Although both have cooled recently, playing a part in their club’s inconsistent play. Poor starts have plagued the Galaxy recently, allowing a lot of goals early, and that was the problem against Chicago just over a month ago.
Their seems to be an urgency among the Fire players and coaching staff after two road losses. Its now or never if you want to make playoffs -- any other cliche will also fit, because time and matches are precious with just eleven left. Soccer wise, this group has not been playing that badly, other than an uninspired first half against Houston. They are moving the ball much better, with more patience, and as a group. If they can finish more frequently and hold on to matches, we will be watching playoffs again at Toyota Park.
The chase will be exciting, it continues today.