Can Chicago's battered defense handle shorthanded obstacle?
Remember earlier this season when Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco felt this team had too many defenders?
He might want to take that wording back as the Fire try to locate their winning ways again on the road when they face the host Kansas City Wizards at 2 p.m. Sunday (televised on TeleFutura). Chicago (8-4-8) is coming off a 3-2 road loss to the Houston Dynamo.
About a month ago the absence of target man Brian McBride was the focal point in this team's offensive adjustment. But the toughest obstacle now is the team's defense.
First, the Fire announced Saturday that they issued fines to head coach Denis Hamlett and defender Bakary Soumare (pictured) for a locker room "incident" that took place during halftime of the Dynamo matchup. Soccer By Ives reported that there was a heated exchange, but that no punches were thrown. Soumare was taken out of the match for the second half. Soumare played in a Mali national team friendly in France last week and did not train with the team. So there is a good chance that he is not available at center back.
Then there are the numerous injuries to this group. Both typical starting outside backs, Gonzalo Segares (left MCL sprain) and Tim Ward (left metatarsal fracture), are out. Center back Wilman Conde is doubtful with his continuous hamstring problem. And in the midfield, John Thorrington also is doubtful with a groin strain. Defender Daniel Woolard had to leave last week's game with an injury, but he no longer is on the injury report.
All-in-all, it makes for a tremendous challenge for even the deepest of MLS teams. And the Fire have four remaining road games where they would like to continue adding to their league-best 5-2-4 record away from Toyota Park. Because of some difficulties at home (3-2-4 record), Chicago has depended on its road stability.
The Wizards (5-7-6) are on the lower end of the East standings, ahead of the lowly New York Red Bulls. They have a challenge of their own with the absence of Davy Arnaud and Claudio Lopez, who are serving suspensions. And this team has struggled from the offensive end, with its scoring leader in the midst of a three-month drought. That man is former Fire forward Josh Wolff, who scored two goals to rally the Wizards for a 2-all draw against the host Fire on April 18. He has been sitting on six goals since a two-goal effort to lead K.C. past Real Salt Lake, 2-0, on May 16.
K.C. has not won a league match since its 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution on June 13. And with a new head coach (Peter Vermes) and a two-week break since a 6-0 defeat against FC Dallas, who knows where the Wizards stand.
This still could be an opportune moment for the Fire to take advantage of a team that has shown so much weakness of late on both sides of the ball. With Chicago nursing its own problems, this has some makings of a low-scoring, grind-it-out battle. Chicago Fire 1, Kansas City Wizards 0
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