Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson will find himself back in the US Men’s National Team this month as he was announced as part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s Gold Cup squad. Johnson will join DC United ‘keeper Bill Hamid and Real Salt Lake ‘keeper Nick Rimando. It will be interesting to see if Johnson pulls a start in the early stages of the Gold Cup. July 9th, 13th, and 16th will be the US men’s first round matches against Belize, Cuba, and Costa Rica respectively. Johnson is the sole member of the Chicago Fire to be part of the US Men’s National Team and is looking to bounce back (as is Hamid) from a terrible Olympic qualifying campaign that saw the US fail to make it to London last year.
But the US is in a good position to make a deep run in the Gold Cup, so it is likely that Johnson will be absent from Chicago’s Starting XI until the beginning of August. Although certainly a boon for Johnson and for Chicago in the long the term, the call-up couldn’t have come at a more precarious time for the Fire. After beginning the 2013 season in dire form, Chicago has turned things around over the month of June going 5-1-0 across all competitions and outscoring their opponents 15-6. Prior to the month of June, Chicago had managed to score a meager 9 goals over 13 matches. Much of this turned around is credited to two trades—the first for centerback Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia and the second for striker Mike Magee from Los Angeles.
Although still in the lower third of the Eastern Conference table, Chicago is poised to make a move up the table. Wednesday Chicago will host the San Jose Earthquakes, a team that has also been disappointing this season. Coming off an energizing win over the Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose will be looking to turn their season around and find consistency. With Johnson on international duty, goalkeeping duties will fall to Paolo Tornaghi, who’s last start was a nightmare 4-1 loss to perennial bottom-dwellers Chivas USA. There will certainly be pressure on Tornaghi to perform this month.
Yet the Fire’s opponent this Wednesday, San Jose Earthquakes, will also be without a key cog of its team also called up for Gold Cup service, forward Chris Wondolowski. Although San Jose hasn’t been the goal scoring threat this season like it had been last year, Wondolowski is still the fulcrum of the team’s attack with five goals and four assists. Taking Wondolowski away leaves rookie forward Adam Jahn, eternal understudy striker Alan Gordan, and the ham-fisted bruiser Steven Lenhart. Chicago’s defense has found a rhythm, yet still has been plagued by mental errors and with surrendering opening goals. The Fire need to get out of the habit of playing from behind, they need to start drawing first blood and holding a lead if they hope to make a credible playoff run. If Chicago can’t do so against a faltering and weakened San Jose, then it is doubtful they’ll be able to perform on the road against stronger competition.
The next two matches will be at Toyota Park (San Jose Wednesday and Sporting Kansas City on Sunday), which is a boon. However with thin defensive depth it is entirely possible that the defensive line might finally run out of steam and it would be a mistake to assume that Mike Magee’s goal scoring run (currently at 7 straight matches) will continue indefinitely. Captain Logan Pause is out with injury (SI dysfunction) but otherwise the Chicago is healthy. There is real reason to believe that the Fire’s good run will continue. In their US Open Cup match against Orlando City, forward Chris Rolfe netted a brace hopefully shaking off the yips that have plagued him this season. Also, midfielder Joel Lindpere has finally found his form, scoring and providing assists over his last couple of matches. This is great news given how inconsequential (if not awful) Lindpere had been up to this point. Similarly, Dilly Duka who has been given a chance to prove his mettle has shown that manager Frank Klopas’s trust has been well placed. If Duka, Lindpere, and Rolfe have found their form and maintain it over the next few matches, then Chicago will have forced itself into the playoff picture.
(image courtesy of chicago-fire.com)