Chicago Fire

Fire search for victory against Sounders

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Fire search for victory against Sounders

The most important match for the Fire last season came against the Seattle Sounders, and the result wasnt what the Fire wanted.

The two clubs met in Seattle on Oct. 4 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, the Sounders winning 2-0. They scored the game-winner, by Fredy Montero in the 77th minute, and Osvaldo Alonso had an insurance goal in stoppage time as the Sounders won their third straight Open Cup and deprived the Fire of winning its fifth overall.

"When you play for a championship, to lift a trophy, its a little different than league play," said Fire captain Logan Pause. "(Seattles) a difficult play to play, going into CenturyLink Stadium, plus they were a very good team and on that day they were better. They deserved to win, but thats behind us."

But itll be a hard result for either side to forget, since 20 of the 27 players participating in the Open Cup final are still on the rosters of their respective teams as the clubs prepare for their first meeting of 2012 on Saturday night at Toyota Park.

Not all Major League Soccer clubs take the summer-long Open Cup tournament as seriously as the Fire and Sounders do.

"We put a lot into it," said Fire coach Frank Klopas, "but we were playing a good team. Its a different season now, and well be playing at home."

So far, it hasnt mattered where the Fire plays the Sounders. The Fire has yet to win, standing 0-3-3 in MLS meetings since Seattle entered the league in 2009. In those six matches the Fire scored just three goals. Both clubs come into Saturdays meeting with some momentum. Seattle is off to a 3-1-1 start, while the Fire is 2-1-1.

"Most of their team is returning, and they still play the same style very disciplined, very hard-working. Itll be a great test for us," said Pause.

The most-marked man for the Fire will have to be forward David Estrada, who has scored four of the Sounders six goals.

"Theyve got guys who understand their roles," said Pause. "What really jumps out is their midfield. Its one of the strongest in the league with Alonso, (Brad) Evans, (Leo) Gonzalez and (Alvaro) Fernandez. These guys are incredibly dynamic, incredibly mobile, and they work their tails off."

Most notable absentee is goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who retired from the Sounders after a brilliant career following last season. Hes now a TV commentator for the Sounders and his replacement, Michael Gspurning, is working on a 248-minute shutout streak. Gspurning played in Greece the last five seasons.

Seattle also has an MLS-best six-game regular season road unbeaten streak (5-0-1), dating back to last season.

The Fire is still unlikely to get newly re-acquired striker Chris Rolfe on the field. He sprained his right ankle in training shortly after leaving Denmark to join the Fire and he spent most of last week in a walking cast. Hes listed as questionable for the Seattle match.

"Theres not much swelling, but he still has pain when he walks," said Klopas. "Every day hes getting better, but hes not to the point where he can run yet."

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed everything was breaking the Chicago Fire’s way.

The Fire’s 11-match unbeaten run from April into early July featured of plenty of impressive performances from the Fire, but also a few lucky breaks. Dallas rested most of its starting lineup when it came to Toyota Park, Atlanta brought its two best players off the bench when it played in Bridgeview, New England couldn’t get a result against the Fire despite pouring on 24 shots.

It seems that luck is evening out a bit. The Fire dropped a fourth straight game on the road on Wednesday in Montreal and, while sloppy play was evident for the second game in a row, a rash of injuries to the back line played a role in the loss.

Left back Brandon Vincent has been out since picking up a quad injury in the warmups before a July 5 game in Portland. Right back Matt Polster suffered a left knee injury this week in training and did not travel to Montreal. On top of that, Joao Meira, who was listed as questionable for the game with a calf injury, left five minutes in with an injury. That’s not a recipe for success.

Christian Dean, acquired by the Fire seven days ago, had to make his debut as an injury replacement five minutes into a game. His center back partner, Jonathan Campbell, was making his first start since April 8. Johan Kappelhof had slid over to right back to fill in for Polster.

The resulting chaos shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dean’s first touch as a Fire player was a clearance that he didn’t cleanly hit. Ignacio Piatti blocked it with his chest and was suddenly open in the box for an early goal.

A Matteo Mancosu penalty and an incredible curling shot from outside the box by Piatti within a minute of each other put the game away before the first half was over. It finished 3-0.

Injuries aren’t things that have good timing, but this definitely qualifies as poor timing as far as the Fire are concerned. Being shorthanded against a Montreal team that may be playing as well as it has all season wasn’t good. On top of that, the Fire host league-leading Toronto.

That game against Toronto had been circled by MLS fans as a meeting of two of the top teams in the league, but the Fire’s recent slide (four losses in the last five matches) has taken some of the luster off it. Toronto is six points ahead of the third-place Fire.

In one final note, Wednesday’s game was the first MLS start for 18-year-old Djordje Mihailovic. He played 82 minutes before being subbed out.

Fire Talk Podcast: Roundtable interview with GM Nelson Rodriguez

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USA TODAY

Fire Talk Podcast: Roundtable interview with GM Nelson Rodriguez

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez hosted media in person and via conference call to talk about the state of the club. He talked about the MLS All-Star Game at Soldier Field, the team’s recent struggles, what he hopes the team can achieve in the rest of the regular season and more.

This episode includes the full 45-minute interview. Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: