The Fire is well-rested now after coming through its first busy stretch of games in great shape, getting seven of a possible nine points in a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch.
That run of Major League Soccer matches ended with a 2-1 home win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, and this Sunday the next busy stretch begins. Though the upcoming opponents havent played as well so far in the season, it could be a rougher challenge for the Fire.
The Fire just completed a successful run that included a win at Chivas USA before getting four points in two home matches against conference leaders, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC.
The upcoming stretch is shorter - three games in seven nights - and it includes more travel. Sundays match is at Portland (2-5-3), then the Fire hosts FC Dallas (3-6-3) on Wednesday and finishes up at Columbus (3-4-2) on May 26.
In Sundays match the Fire (4-2-3) will catch a Timbers team that played the Houston Dynamo to a scoreless draw Tuesday on the road. Portland has had a slow start in its second MLS season but has played acceptably at JELD-WEN Field (2-2-1), and the Fire has never played a good match against the Timbers.
Last season the Timbers were an expansion team that feasted on the Fire. They won their first-ever league match with a rousing 4-2 victory at JELD-WEN Field on April 14 and then earned their first-ever road win with a 1-0 victory at Toyota Park on July 16.
The Fire wont be at full strength for the upcoming run of matches. Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 right-hamstring strain and is expected to be sidelined 3-4 weeks. He suffered the injury 29 minutes into the Sporting Kansas City match. Dan Gargan, himself nursing a sore ankle, was pressed into service at his right back spot and Jalil Anibaba moved from the right side to the center, opposite rookie Austin Berry.
"We lost momentum when Arne came out of the game," admitted coach Frank Klopas. "It took us some time to adjust."
The Fire adjusted, but not after promptly giving up the games first goal, and later benefitted from a red card against SKC before getting the win.
"We got a little fortunate with the red card," said forward Patrick Nyarko, who assisted on Dominic Oduros game-winning goal. "That lifted our confidence. When we played Seattle (a 2-0 home loss) and Real Salt Lake (a draw) teams I think are among the top five in the league we didnt beat those teams. So, this one (vs. SKC) was crucial to our confidence."
This match has some historical significance for the Fire, with midfielder Marco Pappa scheduled to become the 15th player to play in 100 games for the franchise. Hes also tied for fifth in Fire history with his 22 goals. The No. 2 man in that department, Chris Rolfe, is still healing from a sprained left ankle suffered in his third day of training after re-joining the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark.
Rolfe had 38 goals for the Fire from 2005-09, which is topped only by Ante Razovs 76 from 1998-2004. Rolfe finally resumed running at this weeks training sessions, but the club lists him as questionable for Saturday and hes unlikely to even make the trip.