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Friday, May 13, 2011
Fire battle Toronto at BMO

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire and Toronto FC have some similarities in that both sides underwent some significant turnaround heading into the year, and both are struggling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The Fire head to BMO Field this Saturday to take on the Reds, and both sides could use a lift.

Chicago (1-3-4) is in the midst of a 0-3-3 stretch and is winless since its home opener on March 26 against Sporting Kansas City. Toronto (2-4-4) did garner its second win on May 7 against Houston, but the squad is coming off a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on Wednesday.

The Reds have the home-field advantage in their corner this weekend. Toronto is a respectable 2-1-3 at BMO this season.

"We're definitely anticipating for them to come at us in the first couple of minutes, especially with the crowd -- it's always a hostile crowd," Fire defender and midfielder Gonzalo Segares said.

The Fire defeated Toronto, 1-0, during the preseason's Carolina Challenge Cup. Chicago grabbed a first-half lead with a Marco Pappa goal before having to play the final 55 minutes shorthanded because of a Logan Pause red card.

With Dwayne De Rosario no longer with the Reds, the focal point of the team is midfielder Julian de Guzman. As far as a consistent goal scorer, Toronto has not established a primary source on the offensive end just yet. But the Reds display an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation.

Forward Joao Plata, a 19-year-old Ecuadorian, tallied a goal and an assist during Toronto's 2-1 win over Houston, garnering MLS Player of the Week accolades for his efforts.

"Their soccer goes through de Guzman, so we've got to take extra care of him every time he has the ball and pressure him so he doesn't create anything," Segares said. "The Plata kid can score some goals. We saw most of them in Charleston, but they have had a couple changes."

For a third straight game, Chicago should bring out a similar lineup as the Colorado Rapids and Vancouver Whitecaps matches. Defender Cory Gibbs did not dress against the Whitecaps, but Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said Gibbs is ready. Midfielder Michael Videira (concussion) was taken off the MLS Injury Report earlier in the week.

But Pause is questionable with a hamstring strain, and midfielder Patrick Nyarko is out with a concussion.

Recent Fire signing Cristian Nazarit is traveling with the team, but De los Cobos said the forward will be on the bench.

"Nazarit is working hard, but his level of fitness is not ideal," De los Cobos said. "But he's coming with us. He'll stay on the bench. He wants to play, but he needs some time."

While the Fire have notched a point in each of their three previous games, Chicago continues to hold an eighth-place stance in the East standings. This month is supposed to be the Fire's time to make a move because they are in the midst of one of the easiest stretches in their schedule. They have already faced expansion Vancouver, they take on a Toronto side that is seventh in the East this Saturday, and they wrap up May against the Western Conference's worst side, the San Jose Earthquakes.

The possession aspect against Vancouver was a positive, but the goal scoring needs to show up like it did at the start of the campaign.

"It's key for us to go over there from the beginning of the game and get possession of the ball and just create chances," Segares said. "They're pretty motivated and they won their game against Houston, but we can go anywhere and get some points. Hopefully the results will start coming our way."