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June 6, 2014 at 11:08 PM

Sounders FC vs. Chicago Fire, preview and prediction

Sounders FC (9-3-2) at Chicago Fire (2-3-8)
Saturday, June 7, 5:30 p.m., Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV/radio: JOEtv, KIRO 97.3 FM
Spanish TV/radio: THIS-TV (KOMO2), ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Chris Penso

KEY FIRE PLAYERS

F Quincy Amarikwa — Perhaps one of the league’s biggest surprises this season. The 26 year old is already with his fourth team in MLS, bouncing around mostly as a reserve, but he has settled nicely in Chicago. He had four goals in four years with San Jose, Colorado and Toronto. He’s already scored eight goals in 26 games with the Fire, including five goals in 12 games this season (plus multiple PKs drawn). Coach Sigi Schmid said the forward is “like a bowling ball that keeps running into things and knocking things over but somehow he gets through.”

M Harrison Shipp — The current leader in the Rookie of the Year race in many people’s opinions, with three goals and four assists. There was a little controversy as to whether he’d be homegrown eligible coming out of college, but fortunately for the Fire, MLS ruled that he was after having played for the academy, U-20 and PDL teams. Standout player at Notre Dame, where he won the College Cup, was nominated for the MAC-Hermann Trophy and won Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

GK Sean Johnson — Hard to believe he just turned 25 years old as it seems he’s been a key figure in the MLS for quite a while. This is his fifth season, in fact, fourth as a regular starter, and many had him on a fast track to being a regular for the U.S. national team (always a possibility still, of course). The Fire hasn’t been the best defensive squad this year, but both the team and Johnson will draw confidence from a midweek shutout of the Colorado Rapids. Last time against Seattle, he saved a PK attempt by Osvaldo Alonso.

KEY MATCHUPS

Obafemi Martins vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado — The Sounders DP forward recently sent out a tweet saying he hopes to stay with in Seattle long-term and that he loves the fans. An endearing message, but his production has had him beloved, as well. Six goals and six assists, he’s the only player in the league who can make that claim. So who will be trying to stop him? Well, a former Sounder who has played every minute this season for his new team, even scoring a goal.

Marco Pappa vs. Lovel Palmer — Pappa, the ex-Fire standout, scored his first goal of the season last week (it’s worth another look) and his confidence appears to be fully restored following a slow start. Could be an X-factor in the game on set pieces and continues to fill some of the playmaking void with Clint Dempsey away with the USMNT for World Cup preparation. Palmer is on his fourth team since 2011 and has played most of the season at right back for the Fire.

First-place Sounders vs. potential letdown — This was a topic I covered in my preview story. Seattle is guaranteed of being in first place, regardless of results the next five days, when the World Cup break comes around. The Sounders will also be looking at a full week off after this game against the only MLS team it has never lost to. Seems like a scenario for a trap game. Consider it another test (mental as much as physical) against a hungry team that has already played to a league-high eight ties this season.

PREDICTION

The Fire’s last three goals have been penalty kicks. That’s not too bad, except the team hasn’t scored any other goals in the last four games.

The Fire also hadn’t kept a shutout all season until just a few days ago.

The MLSsoccer.com editors were a bit mixed in their picks for this one, but I’m not sure I can pick Chicago, especially since its best player, reigning league MVP Mike Magee, is expected to be out with a calf injury.

Sounders FC 2, Chicago 0

SEA — Obafemi Martins (Chad Barrett) 47′
SEA — Kenny Cooper (Gonzalo Pineda) 89′

How do you see this one playing out?

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| More in Preview and prediction, Sounders FC

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