Following 2-week break, Chicago a bit healthier heading into Rio Tinto
Good health is a relative term for the Chicago Fire these days. A two-week break definitely provided some necessary healing, but there still is a long way to go as Chicago visits Real Salt Lake on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium (8 p.m. CST start, televised on Fox Soccer Channel).
Center defensive back Wilman Conde could be in the starting lineup as he continues to play through hamstring problems. And then there is the speedy recovery process of target man Brian McBride (pictured).
McBride no longer is on the injury report following shoulder surgery and he is in full practice mode. Whether Fire head coach Denis Hamlett brings McBride in remains to be seen.
The disappointing statistic is that McBride still is the team leader with six goals, an obvious sign that Chicago (10-6-8) has had its share of scoring setbacks. The Fire have been shut out twice in the past three games.
And yet this game could be an opportune moment to stay on the Columbus Crew's heels, or even surpass them in the race for first in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus leads with 39 points and Chicago is right behind with 38, though the Fire have played 24 games to the Crew's 23. The Crew have a daunting task this weekend, though, when they host the Western Conference-leading Houston Dynamo on Sunday.
The Fire's concern clearly rests on Real Salt Lake (9-9-6), which has posted back-to-back shutout victories against Chivas USA and the Kansas City Wizards.
The Fire still have a large defensive crew missing (Gonzalo Segares, Daniel Woolard and Tim Ward), and heading into Saturday, that Chicago defensive line and goalkeeper Jon Busch will be tested quite often against a Real offense that generates a bunch of shots. RSL has outscored its opponents 28-10 at home, leading to a 7-1-4 record at Rio Tinto.
The Fire are road warriors this season at 6-2-4, but playing in the thin air, still battling some shorthanded setbacks defensively and Real's home dominance could all certainly play huge factors against Chicago in this one. Real Salt Lake 2, Chicago Fire 1