Sean Johnson will make his first start for the Fire against Paris Saint-Germain in the opening game of the first Sister Cities International Cup tournament Wednesday night at Toyota Park.
Andrew Dykstra, the backup to the departed Jon Busch last season, has been in goal for all eight of the Fire’s Major League Soccer matches. Now Johnson, a fourth-round choice (52nd overall) in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, will get a chance. He played collegiately at Central Florida.
With the exception of Johnson, coach Carlos de los Cobos plans to used a normal starting lineup with Krzysztof Krol, C.J. Brown, Wilman Conde and Dasan Robinson in the back; Baggio Husidic, Julio Martinez, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa in the midfield and Brian McBride as the lone striker.
That lineup will remain on the field only through the first 45 minutes, however. Then de los Cobos will turn to players who have seen little action during the MLS season.
Here’s some other tidbits as the Fire’s new tournament closes in:
— Right back Tim Ward could be out awhile. The injury to his right calf is more serious than originally thought, and de los Cobos doesn’t expect him back on the field for two-three weeks.
— Martinez kept the Fire’s streak going in nominations for MLS goal-of-the-week. The Salvadoran national team player’s tally in a 2-2 tie at Kansas City last Saturday marked the sixth week in a row the Fire has had a nominee for the league award, and two of those goals (by Pappa and Pause) were selected as the MLS’ best for that week.
— De los Cobos is keeping Martinez in his starting 11 but stresses that his job isn’t safe. “He’s improving, but he needs to adapt to this league, where the players are very strong and fast,” said de los Cobos. “He’s not very fast and not very strong. It is difficult, but he scored and is improving and that’s strengthened his confidence — but he’s not at the level I need.”
— Justin Mapp is back. The midfielder has had hamstring problems but worked out full-time on Tuesday and will likely be among the first players off the bench against Paris Saint-Germain.
— Leg injuries to John Thorrington and Calen Carr are becoming more and more disturbing. Neither has played this season. “Doctors give me some information,” said de los Cobos, “but they’ve been very long injuries. I hope they recover fast, but I don’t think it’s possible. Their situations have created a problem, because we need all our players healthy.”
— McBride and Collins John have basically alternated as the lone striker, but McBride — who didn’t start at Kansas City but scored in the second half — has been more impressive. “He’s producing more. He’s an experienced player who shows me all the time that he’s a good player,” said de los Cobos. “When I made a change and he went on the field the team changed. You could see his mobility. He strengthened the confidence of the team.”