Friday, May 20, 2011
Fire look for multiple points at Union
By Charlie Corr
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Nearly two months have passed since the Chicago Fire's last victory, and it is almost a moot point that Chicago has not lost, either, in its past four matches.
Chicago travels to PPL Park in Chester, Pa., to take on the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, and the Fire are hoping to get more than a point against the second-place team in the Eastern Conference.
"We are close to winning," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "I believe in this. We are close to winning."
Close is an accurate description for a team that is tied for the league lead with five draws. But Chicago also is one of only three teams with just one victory on the season (Sporting Kansas City and the Vancouver Whitecaps being the other two).
The Fire (1-3-5) have yet to win on the road this season and have not won since a 3-2 home opener victory over Kansas City on March 26.
"Them playing at home, we know it's going to be a tough game," Fire defensive midfielder and team captain Logan Pause said of the Union. "In-conference, they're higher up the table than we are, so it is a challenge. The results really haven't been going our way."
The Fire likely will continue with their 4-1-4-1 formation, where Chicago has heavily possessed the ball in recent games. But against Toronto FC last week, the Fire produced a better attack in the final third when they switched to two men up top in salvaging a 2-2 road draw.
"I agree, when we played with two forwards and we put another guy in front, we had more presence in the attacking zone," De los Cobos said. "But in the first half I think we had some good moments, too. The most important thing for me is playing with order. The systems are only our guides to follow."
The Fire will not make a whole lot of tweaks to the starting lineup -- if any -- following the Toronto match. Center back Josip Mikulic continues to nurse a shoulder injury, so the center back duo of Cory Gibbs and Yamith Cuesta will stay the same. Goalkeeper Jon Conway is maintaining his starting role, even with backup Sean Johnson participating in full training again following a quad injury.
Pause is working his way back to full health from a hamstring injury, but De los Cobos said Thursday that he will continue with the same central midfield of Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone, who is coming off his first complete match of the season against Toronto.
"We can see that he has great qualities," De los Cobos said of Bone. "He's very good with the ball -- a good distributor with the ball."
Former Fire player and Union head coach Peter Nowak has seen his squad struggle in recent weeks, in the midst of a 0-2-1 stretch. But Philadelphia (4-3-2) has thrived at home with a 3-0-2 mark. The Union has scored a league-low six goals, but it also has allowed only six goals, which ties for second-lowest in MLS.
"With a guy like Peter, they're going to be a well organized team, and a team that fights," Pause said. "Outside of the last couple of games, they haven't allowed many goals this year. They're a hard team to play against."
Only five players have scored a goal for the Union this season, with Carlos Ruiz leading the club with two. Sebastien Le Toux, who posted a stellar 14 goals and 11 assists last season, is sitting on just one goal and one assist this year.
Momentum has been hard to come by for Chicago, but the Fire have a little bit of steam following a second-half run last week against Toronto. Chicago overcame a poor hour-long stretch as late goals from Marco Pappa and Orr Barouch helped garner a draw at BMO Field.
"In the first half of the Toronto game, we struggled as a team," Pause said. "The last half of the second half, all of a sudden there's a sense of urgency, and we're like a different team. We're trying to keep that. We're trying to put a 90-minute, complete game together."
In other Fire personnel news, forward Diego Chaves was limited a bit in training this week with a foot contusion, but he is expected to be ready. De los Cobos also said this week that forward Cristian Nazarit should be available for selection.