The Fire have lost three straight matches across all competitions, and the absence of midfielder Marco Pappa likely was a factor in that disappointing turn of events.
Pappa is a mainstay of Guatemalas national team, which is involved in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying competition. He left the Fire after playing 45 minutes in 2-1 loss at Columbus on May 26 and didnt play in a 3-2 defeat to the minor league Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup May 29 or a 2-0 defeat at New England June 2.
Then the Fire and the rest of Major League Soccer went on a two-week break while the start of World Cup qualifying was in progress. Only Pappa was involved in that among Fire players. He played the first half of Guatemalas 2-1 loss at Jamaica and came on in the second half of a 1-1 draw against the United States on Tuesday.
Pappa is back with the Fire now and will be available for Sundays MLS match against the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park. While the Red Bulls (8-3-2) are off to a fast start in MLS play, the Fire (5-5-3) have lost three of its last four in league play. After the emotional international matches Pappas not sure if hell be on the field for the Fire on Sunday. Coach Frank Klopas will decide that.
"Im feeling good. Im sore like normal and Ive been traveling a lot," said Pappa, who rejoined the Fire at Fridays training session after a four-hour flight back from Guatemala. "I hope I can be ready to play on Sunday."
The Fire certainly need him. After notching the goal-of-the-year in MLS two seasons ago, Pappa followed with a career-high eight goals in 2011. He has three goals and three assists in 12 MLS appearances this season.
Following Sundays match the Fire host again on June 23, when Columbus comes to Bridgeview. Those matches could swing the Fires season, as five of the next seven after that are on the road. Pappas return gives the Fire a big boost.
Internationally, Pappa played a big role in the U.S. match, scoring his countrys goal on a brilliant free kick in the 82nd minute that kept Guatemala in contention in the four-team group competition.
"The World Cup in my country is an important goal, and were trying to win our group," said Pappa, who has played 28 times for Guatemala over the last five seasons. Hes the only MLS player on the Guatemala roster. Most of the others play for clubs in the countrys own pro league.
"We had around 30,000 (spectators for the U.S. match)," said Pappa. "Thats a good number in Guatemala. Last year putting people in the stands was hard, but they really support the national team."
Like the U.S., Guatemala has four more matches in group play and the draw with the U.S. was encouraging.
"For sure we tried to win," he said, "but we were losing and the second half we tried to push the game. We deserved a point, but we have things to improve."
Guatemala has home-and-home matches left with Antiqua & Barbuda, a road match against the U.S. on Oct. 16 and a home battle with Jamaica. The next break for World Cup qualifying is in September, and Pappa hopes the Fire will be in solid playoff position by then.
"We had been getting better each game," he said. "We kept the same group from last year, and we know each other better and better with each game."
Pappa could be facing a former Fire teammate on Sunday. Wilman Conde was a strong central defender for the Fire from 2007-10 when he appeared in 73 matches, was the teams defender-of-the-year in 2009 and a member of the MLS Best XI that season. He left the Fire to play a season in Mexico but returned to MLS with the Red Bulls this season.
Conde hasnt been much of a factor for New York. He hasnt played in an MLS match since March 31 due to a series of injuries, but he did participate in two U.S. Open Cup games and is expected to be available on Sunday. Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls offensive star, might not be ready, though. He missed training earlier this week with a calf injury.
Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender who has missed considerable time with a right hamstring injury, will likely sit again for the Fire but striker Chris Rolfe is ready for his first match in Toyota Park since he rejoined the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark. Before heading overseas, Rolfe had huge game for the Fire against New York, scoring three first-half goals in a 5-2 win on Oct. 23, 2008.
Rolfe needed six weeks to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in training shortly after he returned from Denmark. He played 21 minutes in the loss at Columbus in his first game appearance.
Sundays match will also be noteworthy as the second MLS faceoff of former Mexico internationals Pavel Pardo of the Fire and Rafa Marquez of the Red Bulls.
The Fire has never lost to New York at Toyota Park (5-0-3), the last three overall meetings ending in draws. New Yorks last road win over the Fire came when the club, then known as the MetroStars, won at Soldier Field on May 21, 2005.