Another match and another rival. That seems to be the case lately for the Chicago Fire, who picked up five points from a possible nine during a three match road trip that included matches against rivals Columbus and New England. The Fire finally return to Toyota Park on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. and will welcome back former Fire captain and current Real Salt Lake assistant coach C.J. Brown and his new team. Both sides are coming off 1-1 draws as Real Salt Lake picked up a point at home against D.C. United and the Fire earned a point on the road in New England. RSL currently sits in 4th place in the Western Conference with 22 points from 13 matches, while the Chicago Fire have moved up to sixth in the East 15 points from 15 matches. RSL won both meetings last year by a 1-0 scoreline, but the Fire will be hoping to avenge those losses and pick up its third win of the season.
Real Salt Lake: L-W-L-D-D
Five things to watch for:
Danger man – With four goals in nine starts this season, Fabian Espindola is RSL’s leading scorer and earns a spot in my list of five things to watch for on Wednesday. The Argentinean is also RSL’s most threatening offensive player with 22 shots on goal this season, only five short of what he managed the entire season last year. The Fire defense will have their work cut out for them when it comes to containing Espindola and will certainly need to keep an eye on him throughout the match if they want to get a win.
Don’t be shy – In the aftermath of their 1-1 draw with D.C. United, RSL could be forgiven for feeling hard done by the referee for awarding Charlie Davies with a late penalty for what was a clear dive. But anyone who watched the match will know that it was D.C. United who should have been feeling frustrated with just a point at the final whistle. Ben Olsen’s side dominated most of the game and certainly created the better chances. Chris Pontius even hit the crossbar twice with shots from the edge of the area, which seemed to be a big weakness for RSL. Central defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers were too slow to close down D.C.’s midfield around the edge of the box and they nearly paid the price. The Fire could benefit from that type of defending on Wednesday, as several players for Chicago are capable of hitting the back of the net from outside the box. I can already see Paladini, Oduro and Nyarko lining up to hit one.
Ghanaian connection – With Nyarko returning from injury and Marco Pappa on duty for Guatemala in the Gold Cup, Nyarko and the in-form Oduro have occupied both of the wings in the last few matches. As a result, the Fire have reaped the benefits and enjoyed success on both wings, with Nyarko most recently teeing up Oduro for his first half goal against the Revolution last weekend. The main question now is whether Frank Klopas continues with both Ghanaians on the wing or if he gives Pappa an immediate return to the starting eleven. Regardless of what combination Klopas opts for, the Fire are in good shape on the wings. Look for Oduro and Nyarko to start on Wednesday and for Pappa to make a late second half appearance off the bench.
Due some luck – I’m going to go out on a limb and going to say that Orr Barouch will score on Wednesday night. Incredibly, the Israeli forward has amassed 13 appearances this season but is still yet to earn a start. I don’t see that changing against RSL, but I do think we’ll see a change in fortune in front of goal for Barouch. After all, he’s been extremely unlucky lately. He hit the crossbar late on against Sporting Kansas City and Columbus and was only denied a winner on Saturday against the Revolution by a goal line clearance. I think it’s safe to say a goal is on the way! With Gaston Puerari being transferred last week and Christian Nazarith suspended for the Fire’s next two matches, the Fire could use a goal from Barouch.
Honoring a legend – The Chicago Fire have announced they will honor C.J. Brown at the end of the match. After retiring at the end of last season, Brown took up an assistant coaching role with RSL and will make his first visit to Toyota Park in different colors than the red and white he proudly wore for 12 seasons. In fact, Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas even played with C.J. for several seasons in a Fire uniform. You can expect a tremendous reception for C.J. when he steps out on the field on Wednesday night and when he is deservedly honored after the match.