Chicago travels to the City of Angels this week to face Chivas USA in their only trip to LA during the regular season. The Fire are still stinging from last weekend's loss to Seattle Sounders, and will be without sophmore central defender Jalil Anibaba and head coach Frank Klopas, both suspended as a result of their actions in the moments following Saturday's emotional match.
Chicago showed plenty of promise against one of the better teams in the West when they faced Seattle. While the Men in Red had numerous chances they were unable to capitalize on in the 1st half, it was mainly the play of 61st minute sub Marco Pappa that really set Chicago's offense in motion, as Pappa would ultimately score on an Olimpico in the 89th minute, as well as a strike in the 63rd minute that would be disallowed from Fire players standing in an offside position. In spite of walking away from the match pointless, Chicago showed signs that they're still moving in the right direction as they seek the rhythm that will catapult them to the top of the Eastern Conference table.
Chicago are facing a Chivas USA side that has mostly struggled this season, posting a 3-5-0 record thusfar. The Goats have dropped two straight games, and three games out of the last five, while still looking for their first win at Home Depot Center. In last year's meetings, Chicago drew Chivas 1-1 at HDC, while they manhandled Chivas at Toyota Park, in spite of giving up late goals to preserve a 3-2 win. In fact, Chivas will be looking for their first win against Chicago since 2008, as the Fire have remained unbeaten in the last eight league matches against the Goats, Chicago's longest current winning streak against any MLS club.
On Chicago's side of the ball, only Jalil Anibaba (suspension) and Chris Rolfe (ankle) will be unavailable for Friday evening's match. Arne Friedrich, playing in his 4th MLS match with Chicago, will start alongside Fire rookie Austin Berry in the central defense. Berry, who many called the most MLS-ready rookie in the draft, will be getting his first start for the Men in Red. Berry played well during preseason before picking up a leg injury in Charleston against DC United that kept him out of play into the early weeks of the regular season. That knock is far behind him though, and he's already logged time alongside Friedrich, as the two started together in a bye-week friendly against Berry's former University of Louisville.
With the absence for at least one more week of Chris Rolfe in the lineup, Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko look to front the Chicago attack as they have all season. Nyarko has steadily improved his play each match, as he typically does, and is proving a tough withdrawn striker to defend for MLS defensive backs. Nyarko will look to link with Oduro, and will have ample support from Sebastian Grazzini, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, and either Marco Pappa or Daniel Paladini. Paladini started in Pappa's place against Seattle and had a solid 1st half. Pappa showed more proof as to why he can be a vital first sub off the bench once Rolfe enters the lineup, as Chicago's attack improved immensely with his introduction to the pitch. Part of Pappa's issue, and the reason his role as a sub worked so well, is that he has rarely put together two solid halves of soccer this season. Although Pappa's ultimate best role could be that of 2nd half sub off the bench, it's not likely we'll see that be the case against Chivas, as he is sure to be reintroduced to the starting lineup against a weaker Chivas side.
Sean Johnson, by all indications from Klopas in training this week, will get the nod again as starting GK. Johnson's struggles this season have been apparent, as he's shown a weakness in judging crosses, as well as a tendency to punch away when collecting the ball might be the better option. Unfortunately for the Fire, his propensity for the latter has directly led to two goals in the last two matches. It should also be noted that through an equal three starts a piece between himself and former Inter Milan youth product Paolo Tornaghi, Tornaghi has registered more saves, fewer goals conceded, and a significantly lower goals-against average. While all those stats point towards Tornaghi being a better choice, Klopas seems set that his starter is still Sean Johnson. While one would think a game against a fairly weak Chivas USA side would be a good opportunity to inject Tornaghi back into the lineup, the coaching staff seems to think the GK job is still Johnson's to lose. Time will tell if that decision will pay dividends or not.
Regardless of whatever potential lineup shifting may or may not occur for the Fire, Friday evening should still see Chicago come away with three points. While Chivas has shown positive signs this season, and Dan Kennedy has been stellar in goal, Chicago should be able to impose their will against Chivas backline and find plenty of space to move through the midfield. As usual, Chicago's success offensively will hinge in part on Sebastian Grazzini. If given space, Grazzini will dissect Chivas as he did Seattle, against whom he had one of his better matches of the season. If Chivas clogs the midfield, it will force Chicago to be more creative offensively, something they've had difficulty doing this season. Chicago should be able to make the most of their chances against Chivas though, and come away with three points and the win as they head into a tough stretch of upcoming matches against the likes of RSL, Sporting KC, and Portland.
Image courtesy of chicago-fire.com