Moving along. Let's do this in the format I had in on trial this morning for the USA preview post. We'll outline some of the key factors heading into the match and then take a wild swing at how Tommy might line the boys up tomorrow night.
Some talking points...
- We've got big questions all over the park. Does Crayton return or are we stuck with Wicks in net? With Janicki and McT still nursing their nicked noggins, who goes at the back? Fred and Tino won't man the wings, so who does? Does Pontius deserve another run out? At Moreno's expense? For that matter, does Emilio?
- The Fire have more answers when it comes to midfield, forward, and goalkeeper, but their defense is probably in the weakest state we're going to find it in this season. Segares and Soumare are with their international squads, while Prideaux and Robinson are banged up. That leaves only Conde from their usual starting corps. Presumably, he'll be paired with Brown in the middle, Ward will get another start at right back, and Woolard will go on the left (hot tip for FM/WSM 2009 players--Woolard is a pretty decent pickup for an MLS team). We should be able to do some damage against those flanks, provided we attack in the wide areas.
- Nyarko's quickness was a real thorn in Dallas' side last week. Given that our central defenders tend to be on the lumbering side, that could be a problem for us as well. Likewise, if we concede crosses like we did against LA, McBride will make us pay.
- Who has the most potential off-the-field headaches? Soehn's locker room tirades and seeming lack of communication with some of his veterans is a worry for United, while Chicago has Blanco's vows to leave the club after this season dangling over their heads.
- The home opener should be a big psychological boost for United, but it will be important not to get carried away throwing attackers forward when Chicago have the tools to hurt us on the break.
- The surest way to keep Chicago away from our vulnerable throats is to starve their midfield of possession and keep the pressure on their makeshift back line. That means better distribution out of the back and putting more value on the keeping the ball than we did against LA.
What Would Tommy Do?
Given the need to control possession and to keep Chicago on the back foot, I think we see the 3-5-2 continuing, allowing the five in midfield to dominate the battle for the ball. Likewise, with two up top and Gomez tucking in behind them, the five allows us to stretch the defense as the wide men push forward. Olsen and Simms will be vital in winning the ball and recycling possession.
Getting the wide men forward to put pressure on Chicago's young fullbacks probably means we'll see Wallace again, with Khumalo taking over for McT on the right, hopefully giving young Woolard some headaches. The trouble becomes, what happens at the back? We need to contain the running of Mapp, the aerial power of McBride, and presumably either the guile of Blanco or the quickness of Nyarko, given that I don't expect both to start. With those concerns, we can't have either Khumalo or Wallace (or whoever plays in those areas) bombing forward with impunity.
Probable United Lineup:
Assuming, of course, that Crayton is ready to go. Pontius and Jacobson likely on for Gomez/Moreno and Olsen as the game wears on.
Keys to the Game
- Defensive Cohesion - Chicago's attack has a lot of movement. We'll need to track and close down off-the-ball runs and shut down passing lanes and/or men on the ball who are looking to spring those runners and the quick counter.
- Possession is nine tenths of the law - Keeping the ball means more chances to put pressure on Chicago's weakened back line, while at the same time limiting their chances to pick away at our own. It's a simple game sometimes.
- Work the Wings - With their experience in the center of defense (Conde + Brown = Conde Nasty?) and a hard-working holding midfield, we need to put pressure on Chicago's width, keeping their wide midfielders pinned back providing defensive cover and taking the game to the weakest and most inexperienced probable part of Chicago's lineup.
Well, that's how I see it anyway. Fire away (I couldn't resist!) in the comments. What's your probable lineup? What are your keys to the match? Any predictions on the scoreline?