The Rapids fly to Chicago tomorrow for the first of two pivotal games against top flight opponents. While Gary Smith only cares about the minimum 40 points for a playoff spot at the end of the season, he knows that remaining undefeated against Chicago this weekend and at home to Houston next weekend will be key to confidence going forward into the home stretch.
Clearly, the team has to focus on the Fire first. Chicago may have been beaten at home by LA during the week and they may be missing players due to injury (McBride, Segares, Ward), suspension (Thorrington) and internal disagreements (Soumare) but this is a team that ripped the Rapids apart in midfield in the July 4 home defeat. A team that has plenty of depth. "They have a multitude of good young players who can cause serious problems; there is no shortage of quality," Smith said. Let's not forget some of the older players such as Mr. Blanco either. The Fire will, however, undoubtedly be weakened by the absence of McBride and Smith will be hoping the team exploits that.
For the Rapids, apart from long-term injuries to Colin Clark and Julien Baudet, the squad looks healthy. Baudet could be available for selection within the next two weeks but not this weekend or next. Jacob Peterson, who had injured his knee in training the same day Clark sustained his ligament damage, is good to go. I would see a similar back four to the Chivas game but with Ugo Ihemelu probably coming in for Kimura. For once, Cummings and Casey will get to play together again upfront. Expect LaBrocca and Pablo to start in the middle with Smith and Peterson out wide.
I'll be in the Windy City covering the game for www.mlsnet.com. Can't wait.