Quakes fans should be cautiously optimistic about this match-up. The Chicago Fire are rebuilding. They are ranked last, and have yet to score a goal this season. The Quakes are coming off a huge win and looking to build momentum. Last season, the Quakes destroyed Chicago 5-1 at Buck Shaw, their most decisive victory of 2014 (and their second to last). All signs point to a 3-1 win at home, but signs can be deceiving.
Chicago is coached by former Quakes coach Frank Yallop. Chicago will probably also start former Quakes goalie Jon Busch, as Sean Johnson is recovering from injury, although he did practice this week. Yallop knows the Quakes, and can craft a game-plan to set his team up for victory. Busch practiced against most of the Quakes for five years, so he knows how to stop the Quakes offense better than any other goalie in the league.
The one problem that has plagued Chicago this season is not being able to put the pieces together to score goals. In L.A., they managed a meager eight total shots, with one on goal, and five scoring chances created in a 2-0 loss. Last week against Vancouver, Yallop changed the line-up, starting Adailton and rookie DM Matt Polster, and going with a 4-1-4-1 formation. Chicago dominated the first half with 10 shots, three on goal, and no less than seven scoring chances. But the second half was a different story, with Chicago producing just three more shots, only two of them on target, and just two scoring chances. Vancouver scored a late 86′ goal to steal the victory 1-0. If Chicago can start converting those chances while playing a full 90 minutes, they could be dangerous, especially against the Quakes’ devastated defensive line.
Chicago has a lot of new and young players, so the potential is there, and something the Quakes cannot overlook. Watch out for DP Ghanaian Forward David Accam (practiced this week, listed as questionable, but expected to play), DP Forward Kennedy Igboananike (first year in the league and had a strong game against Vancouver), DP Forward Shaun Maloney (another first year MLSer who had a strong game against Vancouver), rookie DM Matt Polster (who made his first start last week), and 2nd year CM Harry Shipp, who had seven goals and six assists last season. I would expect them to raise hell and net Chicago at least two goals with our patchwork defensive line.
The Quakes will not have the center-backs with whom they started the season: Victor Bernardez (red card) and Paulo Renato (hamstring). Clarence Goodson is coming off an ankle sprain, but should be ready to play. DM Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi is questionable with a strained quad, Brandon Barklage recently left the team, and Jordan Stewart is out with a calf strain, leaving the Quakes with just three 100% healthy defenders: Marvell Wynne, Shaun Francis, and Ty Harden. If one of those players goes down to injury, it could be a huge catalyst to end Chicago’s scoring drought by having to rely on midfielders to play the back line. Some good news: forwards Steven Lenhart and Mike Fucito returned to training this week, and Lenny might be able to suit up for the game.
I expect Dom Kinnear to go with the same defensive formation he’s started with the past two games: a 4-2, with Goodson and Harden at CB, Wynne and Francis as RB and LB, and Koval and Alashe as DMs. I also would expect the same attacking formation: a 3-1 set with Innocent Until Proven Guilty at left wing, MPG center, Nyassi at right wing, and Wondo at forward. F/M Khari Stephenson will probably be on the bench since Pierazzi is out and he’s a tall guy that can win aerial duels, along with midfielders Shea Salinas, Cordell Cato, F/M Tommy Thompon, forward Adam Jahn, and GK Bryan Meredith.
Notable Quakes Injuries:
- Jean Baptiste Pierazzi (pulled quad)
- Paulo Renato (pulled hamstring)
- Jordan Stewart (calf strain)
- Mark Sherrod (recovering from knee surgery)
- Victor Bernardez (red card vs. Seattle)
Final Score Prediction:
2-2 Draw. I think Chicago is an offense that’s poised to start scoring, as shown in the first half of the Vancouver game. They also have all three DPs expected to start, and those DPs will give Harden and Goodson (two players with zero minutes played together this season) a run for their money. I also think the Quakes should net two goals of their own, but no more than two with Busch between the woodwork. Bottom line: Chicago is getting better despite their two losses, and our defense is missing two key players, hence why I advise cautious optimism for Sunday’s match.