tBG) Realistically, Chicago is eliminated from playoff contention, being ten points out with only five matches left. What is the mentality of the club and the fans going into this match?
HTIOT) The mentality of the club is hard to pin down, and has been for much of the season, as Anthony Seymour's piece from Tuesday illustrates. One thing is clear: The 2014 season is effectively over as a sporting concern for the Chicago Fire. Will the players view Thursday's game as just another dead rubber, or (conversely) as a chance to trip up a playoff hopeful and, in so doing, burnish their reputations going into 2015? That's a great question, and one that is unlikely to be answered before kickoff.
The fans are very frustrated, understandably, but seem resigned to seeing what the front office of Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss in the offseason. The long-lamented salary-cap debacle should be sufficiently unwound that whatever team takes the field next year will be 100 percent on them. If the team starts poorly next season, prepare for a unceasing siren of complaint from the fans in the Windy City.
tBG) Mike Magee only has seven goals this season. Why the steep decline from last year?
HTIOT) We learned about a month ago that Magee was fighting a hip injury for much of the season, which (oddly) came as a relief. Magee's movement, finishing and anticipation in 2014 were nothing like his 2013 MVP form. Essentially, he's just played worse.
Magee's another example of someone who has a great deal to prove in 2015. His holdout in preseason would not be an issue if he'd been anything like the player we were expecting upon his return. Instead, he's been a poster child for the cardinal sin of Believing One's Hype, a whiny and out-of-sync shadow of the player that dragged the Fire up by their bootstraps in 2013.
tBG) How has Bakary Soumare performed for the Fire this season? A lot of Philadelphia Union fans are wondering "what if" since depth at center back has been an issue for most of the season.
HTIOT) Bakary Soumare is the kind of player who makes a magnificent prospect and a frustrating squad member. There's always this patina of 'if only' around Soumare - if only his concentration was better, if only he'd evaluate risk and reward better, he'd be Best XI material year-in and year-out. He's a physical specimen - huge, nimble and explosive - but seems to need a more-responsible minder alongside him to focus those gifts consistently. In stretches, he's been dominating; sadly, those stretches seldom last 90 minutes. That frustrating fact, added to his astonishingly high cap number, dictates that conventional wisdom among the Fire faithful is that Philadelphia got a good deal when they shuffled him off to Chicago.
Predicted lineup: Sunday's lineup was experimental, in that the team played a 4-3-3 and started two players (Robert Earnshaw and Florent Sinama-Pongolle) who hadn't started previously. By which I mean: Take this prediction with a grain of salt. Yallop could decide to go with kids, or any other direction, unpredictably. Razvan Cocis left the Houston game with a concussion; his availability is up in the air. Predicted starters (4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Jeff Larentowicz, Lovel Palmer; Alex, Chris Ritter, Matt Watson, Grant Ward; Harrison Shipp; Quincy Amarikwa.
Predicted score: Philadelphia's need trumps Chicago's hope, and the Union get a scrappy 2-1 win to keep their postseason dreams afloat.