Saturday, April 16, 2011
Last-place Fire try to end two-game slide
By Charlie Corr
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos typically stresses the importance of maintaining a similar lineup from game to game, as any coach would prefer. But with back-to-back road losses and the team's worst defensive effort of the season on Thursday, De los Cobos might have some important personnel decisions to make as the Fire attempt to end their little skid when they host the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday at Toyota Park.
The Fire posted road losses to Seattle Sounders FC on April 9 and the expansion Portland Timbers on Thursday, and the focus is on Chicago's recent shaky defensive efforts. Chicago allowed a season-high four goals against Portland in a 4-2 loss. Second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson had one of his poorest efforts of the season against Portland, including the inability to secure the ball that directly led to the Timbers' third goal.
Following Saturday's training, De los Cobos was not ready to state a firm answer as to whether Johnson would return in the net on Sunday, or whether he is leaning toward 33-year-old Jon Conway making his Fire debut.
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson has lost his last two matches.
"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know," De los Cobos said. "Right now, I don't know. I need to think. I need to talk with [Sean] first. ... We have a good player like Jonny. I think Jonny is very good to stick with us because he can help transmit his experience to Sean and to help him mature."
One person who is back in the mix is center defensive back Josip Mikulic. The Fire missed the stability of Mikulic, who had an effective first two games of the season. Mikulic then injured his quad during 11-vs.-11 training the day before Chicago's Lamar Hunt U.S. Opener Cup qualifier against the Colorado Rapids on March 30.
"Right now, it's perfect," Mikulic said of his leg. "Not to worry -- I'm ready."
Dasan Robinson took over for Mikulic during the Fire's two road games against Seattle Sounders FC and Portland. Again, De los Cobos did not state with certainty as to which way he will turn on Sunday at center defensive back. An own goal against Portland and some noticeably slow movement on the pitch probably do not help Robinson's cause, though De los Cobos said he was pleased with Robinson's effort on the road trip.
"I need to analyze [the situation] because Dasan occupied the space, and he worked very good in the matches against Seattle and Portland," De los Cobos said. "I'm one to think about these situations and analyze different circumstances. [Sunday], I'll make my decisions."
The Fire (1-2-1) are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. And while the season is incredibly young, Chicago already has reached an important juncture as the Fire cannot afford a third straight game without some points in their pocket.
The last time the Fire hosted the Galaxy, it marked an undisputed turning point for the worst during Chicago's 2010 season. On Sept. 4, 2010, Chicago maintained a scoreless draw for much of the match while playing shorthanded (Gonzalo Segares was ejected in the 21st minute). Collins John tallied an 88th-minute free kick goal for a 1-0 Fire lead as Toyota Park was abuzz. But instead of sweeping the season series against the eventual Supporters' Shield winners, L.A.'s Omar Gonzalez headed home a game-tying goal off of a Landon Donovan corner kick for a 1-1 draw.
The Fire had other opportunities to stay in the playoff hunt following that match, but last year's campaign went mostly downhill from that point.
Chicago has a couple of elements in its favor this Sunday -- a return home to Toyota Park, and a Galaxy side that is remarkably shorthanded.
The Galaxy confirmed Saturday to ESPNChicago.com that Donovan (knee inflammation) is unavailable for Sunday's game. David Beckham (yellow card accumulation, suspended), Juninho (two yellows on Wednesday, suspended) and Jovan Kirovski (second game of two-game suspension) also are not available for the Galaxy (2-1-3).