Fire have ax to grind against Timbers

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's worst match on record this season is their 4-2 loss during the Portland Timbers' home opener on April 14.

It marked goalkeeper Sean Johnson's worst performance and a demotion behind Jon Conway. The Fire trailed by a season-high three goals at one stage. And the game included an own goal for each team.

The Fire hope for a complete reversal when they host the expansion Timbers for the first time this Saturday at Toyota Park.

"There were a lot of elements that went into that game," Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "We not only dropped points and didn't play well, but it was their opening of the stadium. Both of us are fighting for points right now. We're coming off a good result Tuesday, so hopefully that will give us some momentum."

Chicago (2-5-12, 18 points) posted a 4-0 win over a majority of New York Red Bulls reserves on Tuesday in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play. Then the Fire brought in Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who took an overnight flight and met the team for the first time on Friday.

Grazzini does not expect to play in Saturday's match, but the Fire hope he will take to the pitch shortly.

"He'll be a dynamic player who will help set up the guys in the attacking third, while also scoring some goals," Pause said. "And we've got a very young team, so he brings a vast amount of experience."

"I would have liked to have started on the same time and physical condition as my teammates," Grazzini said. "They're all in mid-season form and I am coming off a short tournament (the Clausura Tournament, playing for Club Atletico All Boys). But I've felt I've put in a lot of hard work in the last four weeks, even though I have been off. Overall, it is very difficult to join a team during the middle of the year."

Heading into Saturday, the Fire will be short a couple of players as forward Diego Chaves and defender Josip Mikulic each serve one-game suspensions. Mikulic was issued a red card from the bench during the Fire's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday. Chaves was issued a suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for his foul against Landon Donovan in that match.

The Fire should be able to compensate for those absences, though. Dominic Oduro and Cristian Nazarit are the projected duo up front, and Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs have teamed up at center back for much of the season. Gibbs is coming off a stomach virus from earlier in the week, but he has been training in preparation for Saturday.

Since the previous Portland match, Johnson has improved significantly in the goal. The Fire's loss to the Western Conference-leading Galaxy last week marked Johnson's only defeat since the Timbers game.

"I get to see him day in and day out, and he has great attitude, work ethic and commitment to get better," Pause said of Johnson. "I think you can see that he's back and he's playing with confidence."

The Timbers (5-9-3, 18 points) are in a tailspin, in the midst of a 0-6-1 skid and winless since a 1-0 home victory over the Columbus Crew on May 21. A promising start to the Timbers' season now finds Portland in eighth place in the Western Conference.

Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury and forward Jorge Perlaza lead Portland with four goals apiece, and Jewsbury has a team-leading six assists. Oduro and midfielder Marco Pappa lead the Fire with five goals each, and Patrick Nyarko leads Chicago with four assists.