The Chicago Fire face a tough test as they visit Seattle Sounders FC Saturday night at Century Link Field (9:00pm CT on NBC Sports Network).
Here are Five Things you should know…
Winning on Turf? Beating Seattle!
At the end of last year, I wrote that one of the Fire’s goals in 2013 should be to win two of their scheduled three games on turf. A 3-1 loss at Vancouver in July and 2-0 defeat at New England last month have seen the chance of attaining that one erased, in turn pushing the team’s record to 0-9-2 on the fake stuff since a 1-0 win over the Revs back on June 27, 2010.
Still, the big daddy of turf games is tonight as the Fire go to play the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field. Part of my goal list for the team back then also included beating Seattle, something the Fire haven’t done in eight competitive matches home or away.
The team’s last visit to Century Link was of course the disappointing 2011 U.S. Open Cup final where a mostly Sebastian Grazzini-less Fire punched above their weight for 78 minutes before falling 2-0.
The only time the Fire have taken a point in Seattle was their first visit, a 0-0 draw on July 25, 2009. They’ve also drawn the Sounders twice at home in 2009 and 2011. Though its not a playoff six pointer, a win tonight would go a long way for the team’s confidence in their playoff push.
World Cup Qualifying
Two Fire players unavailable for tonight’s game played significant roles in their country’s World Cup qualification matches Friday. Egidio Arevalo Rios went 90 minutes for Uruguay as a Luis Suarez brace gave La Celeste a huge 2-1 win at Peru. The victory keeps Uruguay (5-4-4; 19pts.) firmly in the fifth place playoff spot in CONMEBOL, three points ahead of Venezuela and just two behind Ecuador for the final automatic qualifying spot in South America.
Rios and Uruguay will host Colombia in another pivotal match on Tuesday in Montevideo.
Meanwhile in Europe, Joel Lindpere went 85 minutes and assisted on Konstatnin Vassiljev’s second goal in the 57th minute to give Estonia a 2-1 lead over the Netherlands in Tallin. Manchester United striker Robin van Persie would spoil the upset party with a 94th minute penalty kick to earn Holland a 2-2 away draw.
Estonia (2-4-1; 7pts.) will not qualify for the FIFA World Cup but Lindpere will stay with the national side for Tuesday’s qualifier at third place Hungary.
Tonight, Seattle will of course be without both Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson who both played a part in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 3-1 World Cup qualifying defeat at Costa Rica Friday night. Seattle midfielder/defender Brad Evans was also supposed to be part of the squad before suffering a calf injury in the team’s win last week at Columbus.
One Sounders player that will likely be back in uniform Saturday night is forward Obafemi Martins after missing the last month nursing an ankle injury. Despite having a few injury layoffs this season, the former Inter Milan and Newcastle United striker has bagged seven goals and three assists in 15 matches for Seattle.
- TACTICAL: Wide play key for Fire vs. Seattle
Asked this week about the type of quality Martins brings to the Sounders, Frank Klopas said, “The one thing with him is his pace in the open field and his experience coming in. He’s a guy with a lot of quality and the threatening thing with him is his ability to get behind with his pace in transition. We’ve faced not the same quality but definitely faced players with pace before and I think he’s got a lot of ability around the goal.”
Games of Significance This Weekend
The only other game with Eastern Conference playoff significance Saturday night features a somewhat resurgent Columbus side visiting Sporting KC at 7:30pm CT. Should the Crew pull off an upset like that did at midweek vs. Houston, they’d be well back within the playoff race. Should Sporting defeat the Crew like expected, Columbus will really just be one loss away from being out of the playoff race completely.
Sunday is when the real action occurs with sixth place Houston hosting tied for first place New York at 4pm CT (UniMas) as well as fifth place New England hosting tied for first place Montreal at 6:30pm CT (MLS Live) and fourth place Philadelphia visiting San Jose (10:00pm CT on ESPN2).
Playoff Math is really hard to determine with such a tight race but I still asked Klopas this week if he’d been paying attention to the mathematics of the situation. His response:
We’ve made a strong push and we’re right there. We’re two points out with a game in hand and we just have to look at it one game at a time. It’s up to us – if we get results we can put ourselves in the playoffs. After the start we had to the season, we’ve fought very hard to be in this spot and now it’s just taking one game at a time.
"There are still a lot of games in the conference and a lot that can happen so if we worry about getting the results we need, things are in our hands right now.”