After the weekend off, the Fire head back on the field Wednesday night against the San Jose Earthquakes with the team looking to extend its eight-game unbeaten streak to nine (LIVE 7:00pm CT on My50).
San Jose played late Saturday night against LA and came from two goals and a man down to win 3-2. Both teams are still on the outside of the playoff spots looking in but are moving in the right direction. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective Wednesday night.
Gold Cup changes – Both San Jose and the Fire missing players – who will it affect more?
Both the Earthquakes and the Fire will be missing players due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments but in terms of sheer numbers, San Jose is certainly hit harder. The California club is sending four players to compete while goalkeeper Sean Johnson is the Fire’s only representative.
The Earthquakes will also be without center back Victor Bernardez who picked up a red card against LA.
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The losses of last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and dynamic midfielder Marvin Chavez are especially tough and San Jose will certainly be relying even more on strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon Wednesday.
Paolo Tornaghi is no stranger to the Fire net but will be looking to put in a better performance than his last MLS outing, giving up four goals at home to Chivas USA back in March.
Still, Tornaghi is an excellent goalkeeper and could easily be starting for another team in MLS. With Sean Johnson missing for the better part of a month, this is a chance for the former Inter Milan ‘keeper to really step up and force coach Frank Klopas into making a tough decision on the starting job once Johnson returns.
Keeping an eye on the outsides – Morrow and Beitashour are attacking threats
When you have strikers who are good in the air like San Jose has with the likes of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon you want your wide players to be able to put a good cross in. The Earthquake’s wing backs can certainly do that.
Rolfe, Tornaghi Preview San Jose
Both Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour enjoy getting forward and their crossing ability is outstanding. Thankfully Gonzalo Segares did not get called into Costa Rica’s Gold Cup squad and his battle against Beitashour will be one to watch on Wednesday.
Beitashour’s numbers are certainly down from last season where he recorded six assists but he is still a player the Fire cannot allow space to cross the ball into the box.
In the ‘Quakes last away match against D.C. United last month, Morrow got forward a lot more than this past weekend’s match against LA. The outside backs attempted a combined 13 crosses in that match compared to only seven in the LA match.
Limiting the number of crosses should be a goal for the Men in Red on Wednesday night.
Tightening up at the back – important for Berry and Soumare to get their positioning right
With the possibility of both Lenhart and Alan Gordon starting for San Jose, both Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry must be prepared for some bruising physical battles.
Another thing the central defenders must keep an eye on is their positioning. An overlooked aspect of the Fire’s 5-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal last week was the amount of good chances Orlando had, especially on 1v1 duels with Sean Johnson.
The Orlando strikers were able to get as many chances as they did due to some positioning errors by the Fire’s central defenders. Better communication between the pair, the back line and goalkeeper as a whole should correct this problem.
This will also be Tornaghi’s first match playing with Soumare so it will be interesting to see how good the players’ communication with one another is.
At times Berry and Soumare make it hard for themselves with some lackluster positioning which resulted in them having to make up ground and make some last ditch tackles, something we saw against Orlando on more than one occasion.
Though Gordon and Lenhart are more about physicality than movement, I look for the Fire center backs to tighten up a bit on Wednesday and continue to improve on their less than one goal a game against average during this current eight-game unbeaten streak.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Patrick Nyarko and “Magic” Mike Magee