So when you think of teams with 4 wins in their last 5 matches you probably wouldn't think of RSL and Chicago, RSL had struggled most of the summer but had gotten their act together before Saturday's 4-1 loss at DC United and well the Chicago Fire have done more than struggle all season. Yet here we are, with a faceoff of two teams with 8 losses this year but that is where the similarities end, the Chicago Fire have a 6-8-15 record and find themselves a long shot to make the playoffs, they are 6 points out of the last spot and three other teams are between them and that final spot.
Real Salt Lake are 15-8-6 with 51 points and are ensured of a spot in the post season, but they have a lot to play for as they have a very, very outside shot at catching the LA Galaxy for the Supporters' Shield, but more important will be gaining home pitch advantage over their most likely playoff foe the Seattle Sounders. Oh and there is the anticipated return of Javier Morales.
The history of these two teams is fairly even RSL has 3 wins, Chicago 5, and 5 draws, in Salt Lake they are 2-2-2, and when they faced off earlier this year at Chicago they drew 0-0. Of course this Fire team will likely be a very different, as the rebuilding of the Fire roster has continues since the teams faced off back in June.
This is going to be another match where the first goal is likely going to be the difference maker, the Chicago Fire are 0-8-5 and RSL are 0-6-2 when giving up the first goal.
After the jump you will find my Key Match Up, my Wildcards, and my prediction:
Key Match Up:
Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa vs Will Johnson and Chris Wingert -
Yeah a kinda unlikely match up on the surface but consider the fact that Nyarko has 1 goals and 7 assists, while playing behind him in the midfield is Marco Pappa with 5 goals and 2 assists. It will be the duty of Will Johnson and Chris Wingert to find a way to shut down what has become a very good offense (10 goals in last 5 matches). The Fire offense has been very good, only shut out twice in the last 14 matches.
While Marco Pappa hasn't played as big of a role with the Fire this year as I thought he would, his 5 goals are second to Dominic Oduro's 11, which leads the team., both he and Nyarko are quick and smart with the ball. So when you match them up against Will Johnson who is simply a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to break up opposition attacks and the quickly recovering Chris "Hellboy" Wingert (that isn't an original someone said with his cast that he looked like Hellboy, they are right).
This is going to be a very interesting matchup and I think it could be one of the best ones on the pitch that could be a real difference as they might look to attack Wingert early in the match knowing he is still getting back to full match fitness.
It has been 3 different teams in the last 3 years for Cory but this year he has been more involved in the offense than ever before. His 17 shots are more than the last 3 years combined, his 4 shots on goal is equal to the last 3 years and his 3 goals so far this year is triple the total he has ever had before. Two of those goals have come in the last 5 matches, yeah the team has gone 4-1-0 in those 5 matches, so RSL will need to make sure that Gibbs is marked closely on set pieces and if he ever wonders into the RSL area.
Javier Morales -
It has been months since RSL fans have had Javier Morales on the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium to cheer for and that could all come to an end on Wednesday as it is likely he will be in the 18 and while I don't believe he will start the match I have to believe it is very likely that would could see him make a return to action. It was May 7th when he went down injured and RSL went 2-2-6 in the 10 matches after he was injured. You know that the near sell out crowd will make a lot of noise during warmups and they will go nuts when he makes his return to action. The emotional boost could be just what RSL needs after a horrible effort at DC on Saturday.
Baldomero Toledo -
Well we won't have instant replay for the match on Wednesday, but we will have Baldomero. Is there a more polarizing official in MLS than Mr. Toledo? He has been in charge of 120 matches, issued 46 red cards, pointed to the PK spot 47 times, which means there is a more than a 33% chance we will see one or the other from him. In addition he calls an average of 24.9 fouls per match and issues an average of 3.6 yellows per match. The likelihood of not having some type of controversy seems rather rare to me
Well given the two performances of last week by RSL, you have to wonder which team will show up, the one who stepped on the throat of the New York Red Bulls, or the one who got stomped on by DC United? Now we can blame changes to the lineup, a busy schedule, but the reality is that our team allowed a single player to make our team look silly. Hopefully that performance, being at home, and the potential return of Javier Morales will be enough to snap our boys back to reality. While this Chicago Fire team may be grasping at playoff straws, the reality is that they have scored 16 goals in 14 road matches, not a bad total. While their recent run of good form may seem impressive, it has all been at home the Fire are 1-6-7 on the road, but they often get off to a hot start they have 14 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches (the same number as RSL).
RSL have kept their opponent to 1 or fewer goals in 22 of their 29 matches and last weekend was the first time they had given up 4 or more goals, the Fire have just 7 clean sheets and in 13 of their matches they have allowed multiple goals. The numbers could be really interesting, consider that Chicago have allowed 12 of their 39 goals given up to happen between minutes 61-75, which is normally the time most teams make their changes in the second half. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
I would love to think that RSL will be able to keep a clean sheet tonight, but Chicago's offense has really been doing well in recent weeks, they have only been shut out once in their last 9 matches. I think this one is going to be a lot closer than some would expect, but RSL will pull out a 2-1 win.
While I love the idea of RSL still winning the Supporters' Shield, reality is RSL has 5 matches(Chicago, at LA, at Vancouver, at Colorado, Portland) left and if we win them all we will end up with 66 points, LA has 4 matches (RSL, at New York, Chivas USA, at Houston) left and if they win just two they will end up with 67 points. It is a major long shot but unless we win on Wednesday there is no chance it could happen.
My starting XI: Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Alvaro Saborio
OFF MY SOAPBOX