Will the Fire follow Team USA's path?

Will the Fire follow Team USA's path?
March 23, 2013, 11:15 am
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Len Ziehm

There are some common threads between the Fire’s match against Chivas USA on Sunday and the U.S. National Team’s highly unusual match against Costa Rica on Friday night in World Cup qualifying.
Snow – eventually measured at six inches -- pelted Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., while the U.S. and Costa Rica were battling, and it’s also in the forecast for the Bridgeview area on Sunday when the Fire plays its second home match of the season at Toyota Park.

[PHOTOS: The snow globe that was USA-Costa Rica]
The U.S. Nationals were injury-riddled and badly in need of their first victory going into the Costa Rica match, and the Fire – also playing with a depleted roster – will be looking for its first win on Sunday. And, in the case of both the U.S. Nationals and the Fire, there were side issues that made their status seem worse.
Sporting News reported in an article published just a few hours before the Costa Rica match that the U.S. squad was in turmoil, with anonymous players highly critical of coach Jurgen Klinsmann. That could have been a big distraction, but the U.S. overcame it.

[MORE: Might a Costa Rican protest be in the works?]
The Fire goes into the Chivas match with the added burden of being the only team in Major League Soccer without a goal three weeks into the season.

[RELATED: Fire still scoreless after 0-0 draw]
The U.S. took care of business on Friday, earning a 1-0 win to move into second place in its World Cup qualifying group. Now it’s up to the Fire to do as well.
Klinsmann was without eight key players via injuries against Costa Rica, and he added to the turmoil by not naming captain Carlos Bocanegra – the one-time Fire defender – to his game roster. Klinsmann didn’t feel Bocanegra had been getting enough playing time in Europe and wouldn’t be ready for a World Cup qualifier. Clint Dempsey, who scored the game’s only goal in the 16th minute, wore the captain’s armband in his place.

[WATCH: Clint Dempsey starts, finishes the U.S.'s only goal]
Another ex-Fire star, though, was a key to the big win. DaMarcus Beasley, making a national team appearance for the 13th straight year, was called in at left back and was named Man of the Match.
The Fire can only hope to improve their plight as well on Sunday. There won’t likely be a major snow issue, since Toyota Park – unlike the Colorado Rapids’ home field in suburban Denver – has a heating system that prevents snow from accumulating.
Roster-wise, though, the Fire is in bad shape. Sean Johnson is the backup goalkeeper for the U.S., supporting new starter Brad Guzan now that Tim Howard is out with a back injury. Midfielder Joel Lindpere was called up by the Estonian national team, which was a 3-0 loser at The Netherlands in another World Cup qualifying match. With the U.S. playing another qualifier at Mexico on Tuesday and Estonia hosting Andorra the same night, the Fire will be without both frequent starters against Chivas USA.
Arne Friedrich (hamstring) still isn’t ready to play a game. Neither is Mike Videira, who suffered a concussion after getting the start at right back in last week’s 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City. Videira received his first game action of the season because Steven Kinney was nursing a right quadriceps strain, and Kinney remains questionable for Sunday.
A late addition to the injured list is left-side midfielder Dilly Duka (hamstring). He’s also listed as questionable. Captain Logan Pause, who missed the first three matches with a quadriceps strain, is off the injured list and returned to training this week, but his availability for Sunday is doubtful.
So, coach Frank Klopas will have Paolo Tornaghi as his new starter in goal and could conceivably have new starter Wells Thompson at right back with Alex, Yazid Atouba, Corben Bone or Chris Rolfe all candidates to take Duka’s spot.
Daniel Paladini played will in Kansas City when Klopas opted to bench Lindpere, so he figures to remain in central midfield.
The backup goalkeeper will also be new. Alec Kann, who played collegiately at Furman, was signed this week after Johnson was given his latest national team callup. He’ll be Tornaghi’s backup. Tornaghi, a 24-year old Italian, was 1-1-1 playing in Johnson’s place in the first three games of the 2012 season, but he hasn’t played in an MLS match since.
"Sean is coming to the U.S. system and doing well," said Tornaghi. "I have to understand, in my position you don’t have a lot of minutes to play. It’s important in every training to remind yourself that in any minute you could be called onto the field. I’m always ready to step in."

[RELATED: Sean Johnson -- The Survivor]
A bigger problem for the Fire could be on the mental side. That first goal of the season has been elusive, and the Fire came up empty in its first three matches only in 2004. In that campaign, however, the first two matches were scoreless draws. This time, there was a 4-0 loss at Los Angeles and a 1-0 home defeat to New England before the gritty draw against SKC.
If the Fire draws a blank again on Sunday this squad will tie a franchise record. The Fire went scoreless in four straight matches twice before in its 16-year history. The 2004 squad was scoreless in an 0-2-2 start. The 2010 unit went without a goal in a 0-3-1 stretch in September.
In previous seasons, a match with Chivas USA represented a good chance at getting a victory. Not so now.
Chivas USA is 1-1-1 in MLS under new coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola and has gotten better as the season has progressed. Last season, Chivas USA was 1-16-4 in matches when it allowed the first goal. In its last two matches, Chivas USA came from behind to get good results.
Last Saturday, in the well-publicized Super Clasico matchup with the two-time defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA scored late to earn a 1-1 draw. Then on Wednesday, Chivas USA played its counterpart in the Mexican league, Chivas de Guadalajara and rallied for a 3-3 tie on the road.
Chivas USA hasn’t beaten the Fire since 2008, the Fire going 7-0-2 in matchups across all competitions since that loss, and Chivas USA hasn’t won in Bridgeview since 2007.

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Present Fire personnel were prominent for Chivas USA back in the 2008 season. Paladini got in eight games for the Los Angeles-based team in that campaign and Fire assistant coaches Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich were Chivas USA assistants under then-head coach Preki. Percovich also remained in that position in the 2009 season. Sunday’s match will be the only meeting of the clubs this season.