Friday, April 8, 2011Posted: 5:20 p.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
Last Wednesday, the Fire played in front of a spattering of home fans in Peoria. This weekend, theyll take the field in front of 36,000 green-clad supporters.
Only in MLS.
The Fire open a two-game west coast swing Saturday at Qwest Field in Seattle, taking on the Sounders before a Thursday night tilt against the expansion Portland Timbers.
Seattle, a team expected to contend for the MLS Cup, has gone winless in its first four matches this season, losing to the Galaxy and the Red Bulls before drawing with Houston and San Jose.
Fire captain Logan Pause knows that the Emerald City natives will be restless come Saturday.
Its a special place in Seattle, theres no denying that, Pause said of Qwest Field, which has averaged crowds of 36,318 this season. They havent won yet this year, so it leads to a little bit of a dangerous recipe. We have to be wary of that and know that theyre going to come in with a whole lot.
Pause and the Fire would be wary either way Seattle is amongst the deepest teams in the league, and the Sounders might have the best midfield in all of MLS.
That four-man midfield goes five-deep with talent any squad would envy. The mercurial Brad Evans is one of the most dangerous central midfielders in the league, evidenced by his goal last week against San Jose, and Osvaldo Alonso is the key cog of a Seattle machine that has won back-to-back US Open Cups in 2009 and 2010. Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez, who played for Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup, fortify Seattles attack out wide, and versatile Swedish import Erik Fribergs form in his first MLS games is making team owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer look like a genius.
Add in the dangerous forwards Steve Zakuwani and Freddy Montero and a dependable backline led by James Riley, and it should come as no surprise that Seattles expectations for the 2011 season were high.
But things have not gone as expected through four games, and while Pause doesnt want to read into Seattles struggles too much, he knows the Sounders are eager to prove to their home fans that the first four games were flukes.
Lets be honest its four games, Pause said after practice Thursday. Theyve got 30 more to go. Its by no means indicative of really what that teams about. You know that they are going to be bringing it on Saturday, thats for sure.
Any player will tell you that the first 20 minutes of the game is vital, but the Fire are giving the start of the game even more credence this week. The Fire players expect a relentless onslaught of an attack from Seattle to start the game.
I think we have identified that thats probably whats going to happen, Pause said. Not getting a win yet, you know that theyre going to come out flying, especially in front of their home fans. Were not worried about that. We expect thats going to happen, so we prepare for that.
Pauses role in central midfield will be to quell the Seattle attack and create counter attacks if an overeager Seattle leaves openings. Pauses role as captain will ask him to be the coolest head on the pitch and transfer that calmness to his teammates, even if Seattle brings waves of pressure against the backdrop of 36,000 fans.
It will be a great learning experience and Im sure a little bit of a shock for young guys who havent experienced that sort of atmosphere, Pause said. But regardless if its in front of 40,000 or in front of a couple thousand in Peoria, the game is the same.
Fire Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos doesnt see Qwest Field as a challenge that needs to be fought. Last season, the Fire played one of their best games of the season in Seattle and looked poised to draw on the road, but Montero capped his double in the ninety-second minute to steal a 2-1 win for the Sounders.
The Fires roster is hardly the same less than a year later. Its possible that as few as four players could make the start for Chicago in both the 2010 and 2011 matches. De los Cobos raved about his roster after training Thursday and spoke of the unique opportunity his team and its strong personality has ahead of it.
Its beautiful, de los Cobos said. I wish to always play with this ambiance. Its beautiful to play with at full stadium. And the motivation is the same way, because we need to show in front of 38,000 people that we are a good team.
NOTES: Defender Corey Gibbs will travel with the team to the West coast and could start on Saturday. Centerback Josip Mikulic will remain in Chicago and will miss at least the games against Seattle and Portland. De los Cobos could not say when Mikulic could be expected to return to the lineup. Dasan Robinson or 21-year-old Yamith Cuesta will replace Mikulic in the starting lineup, and if Gibbs proves unable to play, both will start.