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2012One of the more exciting benefits of being a season ticket holder is the bonus games. Every STH package contains tickets to "bonus games" that are unknown to anyone when the tickets come out. So, naturally, there's always a little anticipation to see what bonus games the club has in store for their supporters every season. Last year saw the Fire take on some marquee clubs in Mexico's CD Guadalajara, and of course the English Premier League powerhouse, Manchester United. 

With a new season comes new bonus games, and new anticipation over what top flight clubs we may get to see this year. Of course, as a Chelsea FC supporter, I'd love to see the Blues in Toyota Park or Soldier Field, but when it comes to seeing premiership level talent, I'm not picky. Aston Villa will be visiting Toyota Park on July 21st to take on our Chicago Fire. This match should be a great experience for everyone involved, players, supporters, media, everyone.

 Aston Villa may not be Man United or Chelsea, and they may not even be CD Guadalajara, but they are still a Premier League team, and it will be very cool to see them in person. Villa are having a rough go of it this year in the EPL, sitting near the bottom of the table and only 8 points clear of relegation at the moment, but it should still make for an exciting match.

Just remember, last summer the Fire led Man U for over a hour, and the final scoreline was the closest any MLS club came to besting the EPL giants.

With that out of the way, let's stop looking ahead to July and examine the match at hand this Sunday. The Colorado Rapids come in to the match with a record of 2-0-1 on the young campaign, and definitely look to be a team that has some talent. DSC_0089

The one area where the Fire will certainly have an advantage will be in the net. The Rapids can be scored on, and the New York Red Bulls proved that this weekend with braces from both Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. The Men in Red will have starting GK Sean Johnson back this weekend, fresh off his heartbreaking elimination from Olympic qualifying. Even though he's returned to the club, Fire boss Frank Klopas has said that Johnson will sit this weekend in favor of 23 year old rookie, Paolo Tornaghi. 

Johnson didn't play many minutes in Olympic qualifying, so Klopas probably just wants to work him back into the fold with the club before throwing him out on the pitch. However, Tornaghi has definitely impressed in his stint in the net, and it's gotta make Klopas feel very comfortable to have two suitable keepers, unlike last year when Jon Conway couldn't stop a shot to save his life. 

The real question is whether or not Tornaghi will actually challenge SJ for his starting spot in the net. Personally, I don't think so, but you never know. 

DSC_0891Moving away from their own net, the Fire have scored twice this season - both times through Dominic Oduro. If they're going to have the kind of success that people are predicting, they need to find other ways to put the ball in the net. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing Dom succeed, but we need more. Marco Pappa, Sebastian Grazzini, Pavel Pardo, Patrick Nyarko, all of these guys should be scoring threats. When Dan Gargan pushes up forward, he can be a threat. Newcomers like Puppo and Robayo should be threatening opposing keepers as well. The Fire are going to have to find other ways to put the ball in the net. 

All that being said, I still think the 2012 outlook for this club is promising. I predict a trip to the MLS Cup playoffs coupled with a return trip to the USOC Final. There really isn't a team in the league right now, aside from Sporting Kansas City, that looks lethal. The Fire could be serious contenders late in the season if they can build off of last years late season success and move forward. 

My prediction for this weekend is a Fire win.

 

Rapids 0 - Fire 2  Goals coming from Seba and Dom