The situation facing Fire coach Veljko Paunovic in the next four days is potentially a tricky one.
Paunovic and the Fire face a game at Real Salt Lake on Saturday, three days before the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at New England. Saturday's game at Rio Tinto Stadium in is on CSN at 9 p.m. with coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
Paunovic will have to decide how strong of a lineup to play at RSL considering what is almost certainly the biggest game of the season to date takes places on the other side of the country three days later. Paunovic didn’t have David Accam or Jonathan Campbell travel to the game at FC Dallas, which was four days before the Open Cup quarterfinal in July. It's possible similar moves to rest players happen Saturday, although Paunovic wouldn't tell reporters when asked.
Playing in altitude against RSL (9-7-7, 34 points) will give the Fire (4-10-6, 18 points) a tough test. RSL is undefeated at home this season (5-0-5), but has drawn the last four home matches.
“For the sake of the position and how well they are performing in the season so far I think for them they see this game as a must-win so it’s going to all make this game tougher for us,” Paunovic said. “We believe that just by playing like we are doing right now, keeping our identity, that mentality of playing 90 minutes even when you concede goals, is something we have to improve. We make our games tough to our opponent and that’s how we have to go to Salt Lake and play with the same identity.”
The Fire will be without Joao Meira, who suffered a hamstring strain last weekend against the New York Red Bulls, and Khaly Thiam, who was suspended by the league for a hard tackle against Dax McCarty in that game. That could make any squad rotation even tougher.
One addition could be the debut of forward Luis Solignac. On Wednesday, the Fire traded for the Argentine from Colorado and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Thursday that he expects Solignac to play Saturday. He flew directly to Salt Lake instead of meeting the team for training this week. Solignac won’t be able to play in the Open Cup game in New England because he already played for the Rapids in the cup this year.
RSL’s leading scorer, Yura Movsisyan, has missed the past two games with a hip flexor and is listed as questionable. He returned to training this week and could make his return.
“Salt Lake is a strong team, especially at home,” Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “They have their core, their backbone of the midfield in [Kyle] Beckerman and [Javier] Morales, who have been in the league and playing so well together for a very long time. We got to make sure we stay on top of that, we focus on that, but at the same time they have good individual players, [forwards Joao] Plata and [Juan] Martinez. It’s going to be a difficult game. I think we just got to go in there with a confidence.”
Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake
When: 9 p.m. Saturday (coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah