Chicago Fire (6-9-8, 5th in East)
Head coach: Carlos de los Cobos, first year
Last week: Lost at RSL 1-0
Last year: 11-7-12 (lost in Eastern Conference finals to RSL via shootout)
KEY FIRE PLAYERS
M Freddie Ljungberg — Who else right? He’s the highest-paid guy on the field. Curiously his two teams have struggled with him (6-12-5, 1.09 goal/game) and surprisingly better without him (10-6-9, 1.36 goals/game). You still have to think he’s got something special in store for his ex-mates this time.
D C.J. Brown — With Wilman Conde suspended again against the Sounders, this central defender has a tall task in front of him. Especially with Blaise Nkufo, who appears to be finding his form and thrived recently on a grass pitch. How much the ref lets the physical Brown get away with will be key too.
G Sean Johnson — He’s been one of the pleasant surprises for Chicago this season. Surely not much could’ve been expect of him at the start of the season, starting behind Jon Busch and Andrew Dykstra. Now it’s his show and he’ll need to come up with a big save or two.
Chicago F Collins John v. Seattle CBs Jeff Parke/Patrick Ianni — The home side has a ton of playmakers, John will need to provide the finishing. Built like a linebacker, he’ll face a physical test in the Sounders bruising defenders in the back, who have formed quite the partnership.
Seattle M Osvaldo Alonso v. Ljungberg — The Cuban bulldog might’ve been the MVP in the previous meeting by harassing the DP all over the field. Can he do it again? Also, the Fire has been at its best when Ljungberg was shining. With no goals in the last three games, that hasn’t been the case recently.
Chicago’s desperation v. Seattle’s desperation — Ten points back of the Sounders, this is a must-win game for the hosts. Feel free to call their season over with a loss, or even a tie. As Sigi Schmid mentioned earlier this week, the Sounders are equally as desperate for results — especially with Kansas City making a late push.
Big game. Very big game. Of course they’re all big games when you’re digging in your nails to hold onto the No. 8 berth to the playoffs. I think this one might get a little nasty at times, maybe a red card or two.
I see this one playing evenly. An entertaining game up and down the pitch. Pretty much all of the Sounders starters got to rest this week (if you can call a trip to Mexico “rest”), so they should be relatively fresh. I’m seeing a draw in the end.
Sounders FC 1, Chicago Fire 1
SEA — Fredy Montero (Steve Zakuani) 35′
CHI — Marco Pappa (Ljungberg) 67′