In the only meeting between these sides this year, the surging Chicago Fire host a Real Salt Lake side battling the injury bug early in the season. With over a third of their predicting starting XI to miss this match due to injury, RSL will again rely on reserves to fill the voids.
This match will further be influenced by the midweek match that saw RSL draw defending MLS Champions in the LA Galaxy. Despite not finding the back of the net, RSL demonstrated vast improvement across the board and will look to get back to winning ways to finish off their five-game winless streak.
The last time the Chicago Fire hosted the Claret-and-Cobalt, Real won the match in dramatic fashion. Getting the 90th minute equalizer from Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata would secure the winning goal in stoppage time to down the Fire on their own home turf. The match ended with a 3-2 scoring that saw RSL go into the locker-room down 2-0. However, the squad would piece together an excellent string of possession and play that would result in their victory.
About the Clubs
In the offseason, Yallop and company acquired an entirely new batch of Designated Players. The Fire scoured Europe and added two promising young attackers and a veteran playmaker. Acquiring Shaun Maloney from Wigan Athletic, the veteran Scot would be the Fire's new playmaker to feed David Accam (out due to red card suspension) and Kennedy Igboananike - both of whom last played in Sweden.
After starting the season with three consecutive losses, the Fire pieced together a run of three victories before some unlucky play saw the club drop their last match in Kansas City. Still, the Fire are on an upswing and it is in no small part due to the coaching of Yallop. Still missing a piece or two due to injury, Yallop has found a way to get his new look Chicago Fire to earn points using a variety of formations and tactics. The Fire, under Yallop, have become one of the most versatile squads in the league.
Predicted Chicago Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Johnson; Palmer, Adailton, Larentowicz, Gehrig; Jones, Polster, Stephens, Shipp; Maloney; Guly.
Real Salt Lake
The Claret-and-Cobalt showed much improvement in their midweek matchup against the Galaxy. Better movement on and off the ball saw RSL nearly break their scoreless streak on multiple occasions. RSL finished the match looking destined to score, so if that attitude carries over to this match it is only a matter of time before Real will get scoring.
Due to the midweek match and lingering injuries, Jeff Cassar will likely shake things up a bit. Expect more reserve players to either start or get substitute appearances as Cassar might rest some of his players. This will be of particular interest to watch and see who can get the first goal for the Claret-and-Cobalt in over a month. Will it be a reserve player or a regular starter? As RSL continues to adjust to and tinker with their new formation, RSL could continue experimenting with their options - both tactically and personnel-wise - hoping to secure those elusive three points.
Players to Watch
Chicago Fire - Shaun Maloney
The Fire's new number 10 opened up his Major League Soccer account three weeks ago against Toronto FC. Since then Maloney has looked better and better in the driving seat for the Fire. Currently with two assists, Maloney only trails Harrison Shipp (3), the other creative genius on the squad. Together these players have combined for some great plays both creating 16 scoring opportunities so far this season. Maloney is tied as the club's most accurate shooter (67 percent) and maintains around an 80 percent passing average match in and match out. With stats like these, expect Maloney to be a handful for skipper Kyle Beckerman as well as the RSL back line.
Real Salt Lake - Luis Gil
Maloney's counterpart on the Claret-and-Cobalt, Gil will take charge once again in the attack for RSL. Expect Gil to continue his good run of form after a wonderful showing for RSL against the Galaxy. As the heir apparent to Morales, he will need to start creating more chances as his passing percentage has been top class (80 percent). Gil linked up with RSL forwards on multiple occasions last match. Showcasing his consistency and resolve has been key in retaining his starting role for his club ripe with midfield options. Still, Gil will need to continue his calm composure and pressure if RSL is to finally end their winless streak.
Key to the Match
In order to come away with the win the Fire can rely on two aspects of their game. First, keep RSL off the scoring sheet. It doesn't seem too hard since it has been over a month since any RSL player has score, not to mention the boost the home crowd will give the defenders, but the Fire's back line will have to be better already letting in eight goals. Second, the Fire have a secret weapon in the speed of Quincy Amarikwa and Igboananike. With both of these players likely to start on the bench, inserting them after the break will give the Fire a boost over the heavy legs of their opponents. In short, keeping a clean-sheet and using the speed off the bench to secure a goal will be the best way for the Fire to get a result at home.
Real Salt Lake
Hoping to remain unbeaten at Toyota since 2008, RSL will need the same urgency they had against LA. Keeping men in the attack while also falling back to defend, RSL will need to have the entire pitch covered to end their goalless run. While remaining strong in defense, the Claret-and-Cobalt really need (emphasis on the NEED) to score a goal. And if they cannot, they need to remain cool and composed as not to get frazzled and start giving up the ball cheaply. RSL has maintained better possession of the ball in the last two matches so expect the squad to but a greater emphasis on this aspect of their game. Keeping the lion's share of the possession could be just what the doctor ordered to alleviate the ailing RSL attack.
Catch the match Saturday May 9 on KMYU at 1:00 p.m. MDT.
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Will RSL's attack finally begin to click? Can RSL keep their four year unbeaten streak against the Fire going? Share your opinions in the comments section below.