For Real Salt Lake the task is simple, win or draw and you make MLS history with the longest home unbeaten streak. Oh if it were that simple, oh if we thought that RSL fans, players, coaches, or staff would be happy with that, but I don't believe that is the case.
A win would put RSL at 47 points, extending the team record for points, a win would further their +21 goal differential, a win would further their league leading 37 goals scored, a win would likely have them keep their crown as the best defense in MLS, and a shutout would extend their streak to 532 minutes, putting them in reach of their own record 567 minute streak from earlier this year.
A win would put Real Salt Lake in first place in the Western Conference for at least a couple hours, a win would also give them the lead in the race for the Supporters' Shield, a win would be the way you want to make history. A win is what RSL wants.
For the Chicago Fire, they sit with 26 points after 22 matches, and most experts think it will take 42 points to make the playoffs. Can they turn it around? Oh when they announced that Nery Castillo was coming to Chicago, their fans cheered and experts said maybe they can make it, when they announced a second Designated Player, Freddie Ljungberg had been picked up from Seattle, fans cheered and many experts thought it was a done deal that the Fire would make a great run to the playoffs.
That was July, in August they had many believers after they beat the LA Galaxy 3-2, but since the arrival of their 2nd DP they are 2-3-3 with just 9 points from 8 matches. Now they need 16 points from 8 matches, and I don't think they are going to make it, they currently have just 2 wins in 11 matches against teams from the Western Conference. Of their final 8 matches, 5 (including Saturday's match) against teams from the Western Conference.
There are already rumors that Carlos de los Cobos may be looking for another job, but he knows the fight ahead for the Fire will be a tough one. If the Fire fail to get a win, not a result but a win against RSL on Saturday, they will not only need to perform their own miracle but they will need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
After the jump, Key Match-Ups, Wildcards, and my prediction:
Collins John vs. Nat Borchers-
Coming off what might have been his roughest outing of the season on Wednesday night in Champions League play, RSL's Mr. Dependable will need to recover quickly as he will spend a lot of time dealing with Collins John.
John was supposed to be the ultimate partner for Brian McBride up top, and the Fire expected a lot from him but with just 3 goals, 1 assist in 14 matches played it is clear that he wasn't exactly what the Fire ordered when they picked him up. He brought international experience, be brings caps for the Dutch National team, and he brings a good level of energy and passion. He just hasn't brought them the high powered offense they had hoped for.
27 minutes, that is it, that is the total amount of time that RSL has been without the services of Nat Borchers this year? He has put in 2133 minutes of quality minutes as part of the best defense in MLS this year, a defense that has allowed only 16 goals to be scored against them in 24 matches, a defense that has allowed just 6 goals in 12 matches at "Castle Real". Nat is at his best when teamed with Olave, but as he showed all year long he is more than capable of helping out the younger and lesser experienced defenders that he sometimes plays with. He is one of the big cogs in the machine that is RSL.
I give the advantage to Nat, who has proven to be one of the best defenders in MLS and Collins John has yet to prove himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Patrick Nyarko vs Chris Wingert-
There is only one player on the current Chicago roster who has scored against Real Salt Lake, it is Patrick Nyarko. Coming into the 2010 MLS season Chris Wingert hand never scored a goal in a MLS match, but then on May 22nd he put the ball into the back of the net in the RSL 2-1 win at Chivas USA.
Nyarko was a top 10 draft pick for the Fire in 2008, and last year he played in every Fire match. He notched 4 goals and 2 assists last year, but this year he hasn't found the back of the net but he has helped his team with 7 assists (most of anyone on the Fire roster). He has moved to a regular started in the midfield for the Fire and he will likely start there on Saturday against RSL.
I have not been a huge Wingert fan in the past, I thought his shots were awful, that he often was too slow getting back on defense after moving forward to join the attack. Nope, I wasn't a Wingert fan at all, but then something happened, this year as I have watched him become a real force of nature on the pitch. His shots have become dangerous, his runs have become more effective, and his passing has really impressed me. I do believe that Wingert's improved play has been one of the very large parts of the fact that RSL's defense is now the best in Major League Soccer.
This will be a great matchup as both will look to be creative on offense, Nyarko has a bit of a speed advantage but Wingert has shown that he will be up to the task.
I believe that the only chance the Fire have of making the playoffs is if Marco Pappa can return to the lineup and be as effective as he was before getting hurt. 7 goals, 4 assists, including 3 game winning goals, answered the question of who would fill in for Blanco, and if in my opinion I think Pappa was a legit MVP candidate before getting hurt. So he is no longer listed on the Fire injured list, but hasn't played in several matches, and if he plays he could be the difference maker for the Chicago Fire.
Paulo Araujo Jr.-
Well there is nothing better than impressing your head coach with your very first play, and when Paulo came off the bench and immediately attacked an opposing midfielder and stole the ball. In 26 minutes of playing time, he had a couple quality chances on goal and when Robbie Findley crossed a stellar ball across the face of goal Paulo was there to put it in the back of the net and get his first goal for the Cobalt and Claret. If he gets some time on the pitch the Fire might just find themselves victimized by the newest addition to the RSL roster.
The theme of officials impacting the outcome of matches continues for both RSL and MLS in general and Jorge will be in charge of his 49th MLS match, his numbers are fairly typical as he calls an average of 24.9 fouls per match and he issues 3.6 yellow cards per match. 14 times he has pointed to the PK spot, 14 times he has reached to the back pocket and pulled out the red card. Here is hoping that the match is called fair and even for both teams.
Real Salt Lake is 7-0-0 at home this year against teams from the Eastern Conference with a 20 goals scored to 2 goals allowed for a huge +18 goal differential. Any team coming into "Castle Real" should know that they are in for a battle, with records on the line and a chance to take the top spot in more than one competition Real Salt Lake will battle harder than ever.
The Fire have as many road wins as they have home wins, they are 3-6-2 on the road with an impressive 16 goals scored, in fact until last night's 2 goal performance by New York, no team had scored more road goals than the Fire. There is of course a flip side, they have allowed 20 goals in their 11 road matches, and only 3 teams have given up more road goals. Since a crushing 4-3 loss at Houston, the Fire have only scored 2 goals in their last 4 matches, and they haven't gotten a win in their last 5.
RSL has 12 shutout on the season, the Fire just 5. RSL has been held scoreless just 6 times this year, the Fire just 5. RSL has scored 8 goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half, the Fire just 5. RSL has scored 8 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, the Fire just 5. RSL has given up just 2 goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half, the Fire have given up 9. RSL has given up 4 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, the Fire have given up 9.
I just don't see the Fire pulling off what would be a huge upset, RSL 2, Chicago Fire 0.
So if you read this post, and if you can find me at the match and tell me what score I predicted for the match, I will give you one of the cool "Kicking for the Cure" scarves.
OFF MY SOAPBOX