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New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire: Five things to watch for

Following a momentous win in Columbus last weekend, the Chicago Fire continue their stretch away from Toyota Park with a trip to rivals New England Revolution on Saturday (kick-off at 6:30 p.m.) in hopes of maintaining that winning feeling. Christian Nazarit ended the Fire’s 11 match winless streak with a goal from close range in the 90th minute of the Fire’s 1-0 win over the Crew to give the men in red their first league win since March 26th. New England could now find themselves in a similar situation, having lost their last four matches and slipping to 7th place in the Eastern Conference, level on points with Chicago.

Form guide:

New England: W-L-L-L-L

Chicago: D-D-D-D-W

Five things to watch for:

  1. Gold Cup regrets? – Having rejected Grenada’s invitation to represent his country in the Gold Cup, Sharie Joseph opted to stay back with the Revolution and help the club move up the standings. The result has not been what he and the Revs would have hoped for, however. Four defeats on the trot has seen New England slide down the standings, with Joseph particularly struggling the past couple of matches. That said, Joseph remains the leading scorer for the Revs with four goals and has proven himself capable of being a match winner in the past, meaning the Fire should still be cautious of what he brings to the table.
  2. Tightening the ship – After shipping goals from almost everywhere on the pitch in the early stages of the season, the Fire have finally come to grips at the back. Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs have established a burgeoning partnership at the heart of defense, while Gonzalo Segares has continued his fine form at left back. Both Bratislav Ristic and Jalil Anibaba have deputized at right back and have helped contribute to three consecutive clean sheets for the Fire. Sean Johnson also looks to his best, causing us to wonder why he was ever kept out of the side for so long by Carlos de los Cobos. A clean sheet on Saturday will equal the club’s record of four straight clean sheets. Can the Fire maintain their defensive form and keep New England out?
  3. Runaway top scorer – The Fire couldn’t really ask for a better opportunity to equal its record of consecutive clean sheets. The Revolution have scored just three goals in the last seven matches and looked out of sorts in front of goal during their 0-0 draw with Toronto FC on Wednesday night. In fact, only Joseph has managed to score more than one goal for the Revs this season. Seven players are tied in second with one goal apiece and the club’s total haul of 11 goals scored this season is a league low.
  4. Attacking options – With Gaston Puerari being transferred to Club Atlas on Wednesday and Marco Pappa still on Gold Cup duty with Guatemala, the Fire’s attacking options will be slightly limited. Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro will most likely start on the wings while Nazarit could partner Diego Chaves up front. If this is the case, we could see Orr Barrouch make yet another substitute appearance if the Fire need more attacking talent on the field as the match progresses. Barrouch has made 12 appearances this season, all of which have been off the bench.
  5. And then there was one little Uruguayan– Puerari’s departure means a greater burden will be placed on Chaves to deliver the goods (despite Puerari not contributing much in terms of goals). Nazarit will need to contribute as well, but he’s still young and finding his feet in the MLS. Chaves started the season in terrific form but hasn’t scored since his opener in the 1-1 home draw with Houston on April 23rd. The Fire will certainly be hoping for a few more goals out of him. Saturday wouldn’t be too bad of a time to score one.

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Sporting Kansas City vs. Chicago Fire Post Match Analysis

All of the talk prior to Thursday’s match centered around Sporting Kansas City’s new stadium, but after 90 frustrating minutes the only thing on the Fire’s minds was yet another match without a win. It’s been 75 days and 11 matches since the Fire finished a match on top. Despite coming close to breaking that streak on several occasions the Fire never really looked like earning all three points at LIVESTRONG Park.

Talking points:

Offensive inefficiencies – It’s not the first time this season the Fire have failed to find their offensive rhythm and at it won’t be the last. Christian Nazarit tested KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with a fine header in the first half, but otherwise saw very little of the ball and looked more and more tired as the match progressed. Gaston Puerari worked his socks off once again but was ultimately inefficient on the attacking side of things while Diego Chaves, who had been dropped to bench for a well earned rest, entered the fray in the second half but never looked like getting anything going. Dominic Oduro was the most threatening for the Fire, using his speed to create several opportunities while forcing Nielsen into several saves before the Danish ‘keeper received his marching orders for handling outside the penalty box.

Sega – One major bright side from the Fire’s past two draws is the form of Gonzalo Segares. Apart from an early misjudged header in his own box early in the first half, the Fire’s first choice left-back was in fine form and proved difficult for KC to get past. Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs also looked solid on Thursday. Note: Segares wore a black armband to honor the death of his girlfriend’s mother.

PaldadiniXI – After all the calls for Daniel Paladini to start for the Fire, the former NASL midfielder has started and impressed in back-to-back matches. He looks intent to shoot from outside whenever he can and who can blame him. His powerful drive in the first half looked goal bound only for a vital deflection to interfere while his long range effort in the second half was spilled by Eric Kronberg, allowing substitute Orr Barouch to come inches away from giving the Fire the lead.

Penalty drama – Following Barouch’s effort that cannoned off the cross bar, Omar Bravo found himself with possession in the Fire penalty box only for Bratislav Ristic to interfere with a stalwart challenge that grounded the former Mexican forward. The disapproval of LIVESTRONG Park was clearly evident as referee Michael Kennedy opted against giving KC what initially appeared like a clear penalty. Upon review, however, it appears Kennedy was spot on (no pun intended) in his decision not to award the home side a penalty kick. His decision is still up for debate, but Ristic looks to have just gotten enough of the ball to fairly thwart Bravo.

What rivalry? – A lot of the talk heard from Kansas City this season has not been about their new stadium, but instead about this new rivalry with the Chicago Fire. As for the Fire, the club has never considered KC to be a rival and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Rivalries aren’t made overnight, they are built over time and Thursday’s match did little in devel

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Support OSA World Juggle-a-thon for World Malaria Day!

Every Chicago Fire supporters knows who Mike Banner is, but most will be unaware of the fact that every 45 seconds a child dies from Malaria. Today, the Fire’s very own Mike Banner will be participating in the OSA World Juggle-a-thon to benefit Nothing But Nuts. The event takes place at 6pm CT tonight and soccer players, fans and coaches everywhere are juggling to get better and to save lives. The OSA World Juggle-a-thon is put on by OnlineSoccerAcademy.com for Nothing But Nets.  Nothing But Nets is an MLS partner charity and for every $10 raised they provide a life saving bed net to a person in need in Africa. You too can help!

How do I participate?

1.  Download a pledge sheet on the “OSA World Juggle-a-thon” page of OnlineSoccerAcademy.com (link too http://www.OnlineSoccerAcademy.com)

2.  College pledges or flat donations prior to juggling.  The minimum suggested amount to raise is $30.  Do that, you save 3 lives and you get a shirt!

3.  Juggle for your juggling record by yourself or with friends at 6pm your time!  After follow directions on pledge sheet and mail in your funds raised!

OSA World Juggle-a-thon Highlights so far:

28 pro players on board including Jay Demerit and Carli Lloyd from the US National Team

Multiple pro freestylers participating including 16 year old phenom Indi Cowie (she was on Good Morning America and New York Times recently)

One freestyler is going for Guinness World Record of most sole juggles during OSA World Juggle-a-thon

Multiple youth soccer clubs and pro supporters groups are participating and hosting OSA World Juggle-a-thon parties

CASL in North Carolina is hosting a two field OSA World Juggle-a-thon party – they have over 10,000 youth soccer players

For more information, questions or comments please visit OnlineSoccerAcademy.com (link to http://www.OnlineSoccerAcademy.com) or contact their founder Jared Montz at Jared@JMSoccer10.com.

After spending several years living in Kenya, I can’t begin to tell you the importance of protecting children from malaria. What better way to support a great cause than by juggling a soccer ball? Come on, go and rep the Fire at tonight’s event, you know you want to!

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Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy Post Match Analysis

After a torrid road trip in the Pacific Northwest that resulted in back-to-back losses, the Fire returned to Toyota Park on Sunday in hopes of rediscovering their form against a weakened Los Angeles Galaxy side. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juninho were all absent from Bruce Arena’s squad but the Galaxy still managed to overcome a lackluster Fire team to win 2-1 and hand the Fire its third straight defeat. Chad Barrett opened the scoring for the Galaxy in the 42nd minute, beating the offside trap to fire past Jon Conway, who was brought in for Sean Johnson following his disappointing performance against Portland in midweek.

Omar Gonzalez doubled the Galaxy’s lead in the 72nd with a header before substitute Dominic Oduro pulled one back for the men in red with one minute of normal time remaining. A late flurry of corners nearly saw the Fire grab an equalizer, but in the end it would be three more points dropped and more questions being asked about this refurbished Fire team.

Talking Points:

Missed Opportunities – Even before former Fire striker Chad Barrett opened the scoring, Chicago could have and certainly should have been in front. Gaston Puerari, who has been guilty of missing several good one-on-one goal scoring opportunities this season, looked set to put the Fire ahead in the 18th minute after Diego Chaves had flicked the ball into open space. But with only Donovan Ricketts to beat, the Uruguayan chipped the ball just beyond the far post. Gonzalo Segares then followed that up with a narrow miss of his own later in the half. When Barrett’s goal did arrive, the Fire could only blame themselves for being down. After all, looking at the picture below you simply have to wonder how Gaston didn’t score and how different the result could have been had this effort gone in the back of the net.

Gaston Puerari misses a golden opportunity for the Fire in the first half

Offside Trap Gone Bust – When Barrett controlled Miguel Lopez’ and fired past Conway for the opener, I immediately looked towards the linesman for the offside flag. From my view behind the goal in Section 8 and judging by how much space Barrett was in, I found it hard to believe that he was not offside, but upon the replay it was painfully obvious that Jalil Anibaba had kept Barrett onside by failing to step up with the rest of the backline. Josip Mikulic had stopped following Barrett’s run to catch him offside but even he and Cory Gibbs failed to come anywhere close to catching him offside meaning the Galaxy forward was left in acres of space. The picture shows just where the Fire defense and Barrett were when the cross is about to be made.

Chad Barrett finds himself in acres of space to give the Galaxy the lead.

Lack of creativity – Apart from Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko, the Fire severely missed a creative spark in the midfield. The introduction of Oduro gave some life to the Fire, but midfield was a case of a lack of possession and ineffective efforts to put pressure on the Galaxy’s defense. Logan Pause is a tremendous player, but his gift lies more within the defensive realm of the game. After all, he did enjoy a stint at right back earlier in his Fire career. As for Mike Videira, he is a hard working player and a combative force in the center of midfield, but he isn’t the type of midfielder capable of providing that necessary creative spark.

Work Ethic – Despite three defeats on the bounce now, the bright side is the Fire haven’t been lacking in effort. Take it for what it is, but even when the Fire were down 3-0 to Portland they kept pushing and were able to pull two goals back. A similar case unfolded again on Sunday as the Fire found themselves down 2-0 but continued to labor and managed to cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately it would end up being too little too late, but you have to at least applaud the effort and look at this team as a hungry and determined group of guys. Things may not be clicking yet for the Fire, but I’d be even more concerned if the effort wasn’t there. Thankfully that’s not the case.

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Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers: Five things to watch for

As a new era dawns for the Portland Timbers who ready themselves for the club’s first home match in MLS history, the Chicago Fire will look to return to winning ways against the league newcomers. The Fire, playing the Timbers for the first time in history, would like nothing more than to mark its first appearance at the recently refurbished JELD-WEN Field with a win. There should be plenty of excitement in this week’s ‘MLS Match of the Week’, as well as plenty to watch for. Here are my top five things to keep an eye out for:

1)      Home Sweet Home – It would be absurd to say that JEDL-WEN field is a fortress for the Portland Timbers, but you can certainly count on an amped up crowd who have been anticipating this day for years to make lots of noise on Thursday. The players themselves will certainly be riled up as well as they look to provide the fans with a first home victory and demonstrate to the rest of the league that they will be a difficult side to beat at home this season. It’s almost safe to say that the Timbers, particularly its fans, will be more excited for this match than they were for the season opener against Colorado. The Fire will have their work cut out for them if they are to rain on Portland’s parade.

2)       A Familiar Face – Just as it looked like Peter Lowry was beginning to settle down in Chicago, the Timbers selected the Santa Clara graduate in the seventh round of the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft. At the age of 25, many Fire supporters had high hopes for Lowry, but will be unable to witness his true potential in a Fire uniform as Lowry has now become a key figure in this relatively unknown Portland squad. Although he never really got going for the Fire, and despite the fact he may not necessarily be a ‘game changer’, Peter Lowry is still a talented player and the Fire will know they need to keep an eye on him if they want to walk away with three points.

3)      ‘Super Cooper’ – Another player the Fire will know plenty about is Timbers forward Kenny Cooper. He may have most recently plied his trade in Germany, but he has played four seasons in the MLS and has proved he can be quite a handful for opposition defenders. His size and physical prowess make him a huge aerial threat and he isn’t too bad off in the speed department either. Dasan Robinson and Cory Gibbs will have to perform better than they did on Saturday if the Fire hope to keep a clean sheet. Cooper has yet to open his account this season, but his shots to goal ratio is impressive. He’s taken eight shots and managed to get seven of them on target so far (88%). Here’s hoping he doesn’t find the back of the net against the Fire.

4)      Patrick Nyarko – After being on the end of a horrific tackle by Seattle midfielder Servando Carrasco in the Fire’s 2-1 defeat last Saturday, it appeared that Nyarko would be facing time on the sidelines. Thankfully, the Chicago winger only suffered a big bruise and was back in training on Tuesday. He should be available to start against the Timbers but it will be interesting to see if Carlos de los Cobos decides to risk him or keep him on the bench. He’s enjoyed a bright start to the season so far and provided an assist for the Fire’s only goal of the game in the Sounders defeat. It will be a big bonus if Nyarko plays, but keep an eye out for whether he plays as freely as he usually does, or if he even plays at all.

5)      Tightening up the ship – A lot of talk has centered on the success of the Fire’s new Uruguayan strike partnership, but let’s not forget we need to be resolute in defensive areas as well. The Fire defense was exposed on too many occasions last weekend and they can’t afford to put forth a similar performance. Five goals conceded in MLS play this season is slightly worrying, as de los Cobos is most likely aware of, and the Fire will need to demonstrate an improved ability to withhold opposition attacking forces in order to gather the three points against Portland and, hopefully, become a force in this league.

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