Chicago Fire (6-6-6, 18 pts, 4th in Eastern Conference)
Head coach: Carlos de los Cobos, 1st year
Last week: Beat New England 2-1, lost to Houston 4-3
Last year: 11-7-12, runner up in East
KEY CHICAGO PLAYERS
M Freddie Ljungberg — Who else, right? But besides all the fanfare, the 33-year-old has been making plays and setting up goals at a high clip for his new team. Back to playing in the role just beneath the strikers, coupled with extra motivation in playing his former team, he’ll certainly be a focal point.
D Gonzalo Segares — The suspension of defensive stalwart Wilman Conde will be a big loss in the back and much of the defensive responsibility will fall on the Costa Rican. He just returned to Chicago earlier this month from Apollon Limassol, a Greek Cypriot club.
G Sean Johnson — The rookie has had flashes of brilliance and shaky moments as well since taking over for Andrew Dykstra and he will certainly be called upon to make a save or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the difference in the game (good or bad) amid all the hoopla around Ljungberg’s return.
Seattle F Blaise Nkufo v. Chicago D CJ Brown — Perhaps the two most physically intimidating guys on the field will surely match up several times in this one. Not sure I’m ready to say Nkufo is in a drought, but it’s getting close and breaking through for his first goal would be huge.
Seattle M Osvaldo Alonso v. Chicago M Ljungberg — The Sounders FC turnaround was timed around Ljungberg’s exit, but also Alonso’s return to the lineup. These two guys will have a big say in who controls possession and the middle of the field. It could get a little fiery as well between these two.
Seattle Ds Jeff Parke/Patrick Ianni v. Chicago F Brian McBride — With several Fire players able to provide service, being able to challenge the big forward will be key. The Sounders FC backline hasn’t allowed a league goal in more than 300 minutes, we’ll see if it can hold Ljungberg and Co. to zero.
The two teams will be without key guys on defense, Chicago’s Conde as mentioned before, but don’t discount the loss of Leo Gonzalez, the left back for Seattle that’s suspended due to an awful red card decision at the end of the Chivas USA game.
I think there will be some goals in this one. I also think Keller prevails over the youngster Johnson in the head-to-head battle of goalkeepers and Seattle continues its hot streak in league play. How about a late winner for Steve Zakuani off the bench?
Sounders FC 2, Chicago Fire 1
CHI: Marco Pappa (Patrick Nyarko) 38′
SEA: Blaise Nkufo (Sanna Nyassi) 53′
SEA: Steve Zakuani (Fredy Montero) 80′