Two matches into the MLS season, the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes are still looking for their first win. But the similarities don't end there.
Like San Jose, Chicago has done quite a bit of retooling in the offseason. But when the Earthquakes visit the Fire this Saturday at Soldier Field, they don't expect everybody to be wearing name tags.
"They have retooled, but there are still a lot of familiar faces," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "You look at them and it's still Jesse Marsch and Chris Armas in the midfield, C.J. Brown and Jim Curtin in the back and Zach Thornton in goal."
Technically, Thornton qualifies as a new "old" face, having spent the 2004 campaign with Benfica of Portugal, but Kinnear's point is valid. The heart of the Fire club, which has experience plenty of success over the past few seasons, remains intact. In either case, San Jose, which has opened the season with home draws against New England (2-2) and Chivas USA (3-3), is more concerned about its own performance.
"We want our guys to know what to expect when they get on the field so there are no surprises during the game," said Kinnear, "but most importantly, we need to focus on our game and play to our strengths."
One of those strengths has been the wide play of Brad Davis and Brian Mullan, who should strive even more away from the cozy confines of Spartan Stadium.
"I think we're going to be a good team on the road this year," said Kinnear. "Sometimes the open space helps us out -- it helps someone like Brian, like Brad to find bigger pockets in the field rather than the small ones they get at home."
With Danny O'Rourke, already establishing himself as one of the finest rookies in the league, covering ground in the middle of the field, San Jose should be well-equipped to deal with Chicago's experienced midfield.
"He holds his position well and he makes the simple play when he has it," said Kinnear of his prized rookie from Indiana. "The one thing I love about him is he's competitive and he gets angry on the field when things aren't going his way, and he tries to correct it the right way."
Although O'Rourke held up well in his professional debut in the opener against New England, he took his game to an even higher level last Saturday against Chivas USA. The sudden improvement was not lost on the coaching staff.
"In talking to [former San Jose Clash player] Caleb Porter, who was the assistant coach at Indiana, either he's going to learn or he wants to learn," said Kinnear. "Your first game at Spartan is going to be hard because there's not a lot of space out there, but I think he made adjustments where he was not trying to run out of trouble, he was trying to pass out of trouble."
O'Rourke and fellow center midfielder Ricardo Clark will most likely find themselves up against the veteran combination of Armas and Marsch in the middle of the field. Chicago, which lost its decorated strike partnership of Damani Ralph and Ante Razov (Columbus) in the offseason, has opened the season on the road with a 2-1 loss at FC Dallas and a 1-1 draw against defending MLS champion D.C. United.
Having conceded five goals in their first two matches -- including all three on crosses last weekend against Chivas USA -- the Earthquakes will have to defend better if they are to come away with their first win of the season, especially against Chicago's rising star Justin Mapp, who can be a terror out wide.
"We didn't deal with crosses very well on Saturday," said Kinnear, "but all in all, I thought through the flow of the game that we were the better team."
One of the main reasons for San Jose's potent attack has been the play of U.S. national team forward Brian Ching, who has tallied goals on headers in each of the team's first two games. Ching, who was named to the MLS Best XI in 2004, also earned Comeback Player of the Year honors, a season after suffering a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon. As effective as Ching was last season, he has expanded his game to become even more a part of the Quakes attack early in 2005.
"Last year, it took him a while to get fit. This year, he came in really fit and confident because of his month and a half with the U.S. team," said Kinnear. "When you put fitness together with confidence, I think it makes for a very good player."
With Ching forming a productive partnership with Ronald Cerritos, San Jose has been consistently dangerous in the attack. Especially when you consider the service being provided by Davis, who leads the league with three assists, one more than he had all of last season.
"Our forwards are very active and playing well off each other," said Kinnear. "Our runs in the box have been dangerous and the service has been good, so when you put those two things together, it makes for a pretty lively penalty area."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.