Fire take on Montreal on the outside looking in

Fire take on Montreal on the outside looking in
September 27, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Len Ziehm

The Fire wasn’t very active outside of Major League Soccer play this season, and maybe that will work to the club’s advantage in another match with playoff implications on Saturday.

This time the Fire (11-12-6) hosts the Montreal Impact (13-9-6) with hopes of getting back into playoff position. The Impact has been in the Eastern Conference’s top five most of the season and now sits in third place despite three straight losses. The Fire is one spot out at No. 6 after a 3-0 loss at Columbus on Saturday.

One thing that might work in the Fire’s favor on Saturday is the fact that the Impact had a big mid-week game in the CONCACAF Championship League. Despite a 2-0 victory over Guatemala’s CD Heredia the Impact bowed out in the pool play portion of that competition,

The Fire participated in only one international friendly this year and bowed out of its only other non-MLS event, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, on Aug. 7. It’s been a strictly MLS focus since then.

Montreal, meanwhile, has been reeling. The Impact lost its last three MLS matches – 2-1 to Columbus, 3-0 to San Jose and 3-0 to Vancouver.  Coach Marco Schallibaum sent out a lineup of players who had only limited playing time in the CCL match on Tuesday, so his key players may feel well rested on Saturday. One – midfielder Felipe – will sit out a one-game suspense for yellow card point accumulations, however.

As has been the case for the last six weeks, the Fire is under intense pressure again in the playoff race. So is Montreal now – but to a much lesser extent. After the three straight losses the Impact is only two standings points ahead of fourth-place Houston.

The Dynamo is entrenched in fourth place with 43 points in 29 matches and New England is No. 5 with 40 in 29. The Revolution hosts Houston on Saturday. The Fire and Philadelphia Union are sixth and seventh, both with 39 points in 29 matches. The Fire owns the tiebreaker.

Not to be overlooked is the Columbus Crew, in eighth place but just one point behind the Fire and Union. The Crew, though, has played one more match than those two and is on the road on Sunday, at FC Dallas. Philadelphia visits Sporting Kansas City on Friday.

The Fire has only two home matches left in its five regular season games, so getting three points on Saturday is critical. The Fire has been a bad road team, owning just a 2-8-4 record on enemy fields this season.

Central defender Bakary Soumare, whose early red card contributed to Saturday’s loss, will sit out the mandatory one-game suspension against Montreal. Though Soumare was instrumental in the Fire’s late season playoff push, the team did well without him in a previous situation. With Soumare sitting out against Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 23 the Fire earned a 1-0 home win with his little-used replacement, Hunter Jumper, scoring the game’s only goal.

Coach Frank Klopas could go with Jumper again, but has been experimenting with Jeff Larentowicz dropping back from the midfield in training this week.

There’ll also be the sidelight of the Golden Boot race in Bridgeview. Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio leads with 18 goals and the Fire’s Mike Magee is tied with Vancouver’s Camilo Sanvezzo for second, both with 16.  Di Vaio scored the Impact’s second goal in Montreal’s 2-0 win over the Fire on April 27 in Canada. That was the teams’ only previous meeting this season.

After Saturday’s match the Fire will spend most of October on the road. The only home match is Oct. 19 vs. Toronto FC. The road matches are at D.C. United on Oct. 4, FC Dallas on Oct. 12 and New York on Oct. 27.