Fire host RSL in Eastern Conference Championship

QUESTIONABLE: DF Wilman Conde (R sciatic pathology); DF Gonzalo Segares (R knee MCL sprain); MF Peter Lowry (L knee contusion); PROBABLE: FW Brian McBride (R quad contusion); FW Chris Rolfe (L quad strain) ...
REAL SALT LAKE -- PROBABLE: MF Kyle Beckerman (L hamstring tightness); DF Tony Beltran (R hip flexor strain); DF David Horst (L groin strain); MF Will Johnson (R shin contusion); MF Javier Morales (R foot contusion); FW Yura Movsisyan (L ankle sprain)

WARNINGS (fined next yellow): none


Since the current format for the MLS Cup Playoffs was adopted in 2003, the Chicago Fire have played in four conference championships. They've won one to make it to an MLS Cup Final -- a 1-0 overtime win against New England in 2003 at Soldier Field. The three they've lost have all been on the road, including last year's conference final in Columbus. "I certainly think about it. When a crowd can generate an atmosphere like that, it makes it a lot easier for the players to get up for the games," said John Thorrington. "We certainly can feed off of that energy." ... On each of three occasions they've reached the MLS championship game (1998, 2000, 2003), the Fire have clinched their berth with a victory at home. "People are looking for all these ins and outs," coach Denis Hamlett said. "But I think it's going to come down to two very good teams that are going to play against each other with the right to get to the final." ... For the second leg of the conference semifinal series, Hamlett made a change, putting Daniel Woolard in at left back in place of Mike Banner, a converted midfielder who filled the role down the stretch. "His training has been solid, and I knew we needed another guy to take care of (Sainey) Nyassi on the flank," Hamlett said. "He had a very good game and took Nyassi out of the play for the most part of the game. Daniel is just a solid guy, and when he can get forward he tries to help out." ... Dasan Robinson made a second start in central defense in the playoff series, and Wilman Conde and Gonzalo Segares are still listed as questionable for the match against Real. But Tim Ward is longer listed on the injury report. "We're starting to get some bodies back healthy ... We know what it was like when we did have our whole group together because of the way we started the season. Confidence is high when you have that." After recording shutouts in the final two matches in the regular season, the Fire conceded two goals in the semifinal opener vs. New England, but rebounded for another clean sheet against the Revs in the second leg, allowing just four shots against. "They're a much more technical team," Fire defender Brandon Prideaux said of RSL to ESPN. "They like to pass and move quite a bit more, whereas New England is more direct, and they like to cross the ball in. That's how they break teams down."


If Real Salt Lake are to reach the MLS Cup Final for the first time, they will again need a remarkable win on the road. On the road in the regular season, Real Salt Lake won just twice and tied twice in 15 games -- the second-worst record in MLS. Over their five-year existence, RSL has just 10 regular season wins in 77 road games. "Obviously it's a different situation, we're playing away, we're playing against a team that is in fantastic form and we're playing in front of a hostile crowd," Kreis said. "We're going to have to take care of the details, but at the end of the day the simple truth is we need to score goals to win, don't we?" ... Real have not defeated Chicago since June 3, 2006 -- a span now of seven games. That 3-1 win at Rice-Eccles Stadium was the only RSL victory in 10 all-time meetings. In both meetings this year, RSL has not seen Cuauhtemoc Blanco. "He's a player that sees passes and can make plays that the majority of players can't, to be completely honest," Kreis said. "You've got to be aware when he's on the ball, what else is happening? What are the other runs? Who's getting in behind you? He can see those passes and complete those passes a lot of people can't." ... But while Blanco has played RSL just three times in his Fire career, he's made them count. In his first game against RSL at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Aug. 18, 2007, he scored a goal in the 43rd minute of a 2-0 win that was later named MLS Goal of the Year. In the season opener in 2008, he broke RSL's hearts with an equalizer in stoppage time for a 1-1 draw. "I would say they have a lot more attacking options and firepower than the Crew," Andy Williams said. "Chris Rolfe is a good goal scorer, [Brian] McBride and then you have someone like Blanco feeding those guys the ball and creating chances for them, it's a deadly combination." ... Once again, RSL is 90 minutes away from a trip to the MLS Cup Final. They were there a year ago, on their home field, but fell 1-0 to New York. "The situation was new. It was undiscovered country because our club had never been there before," center back Nat Borchers said. "This year, it's much different because we know we could have done better last year. We're ambitious to get the MLS Cup and we know we have the team to do it."

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