The Soul have injuries at key positions and will start their third quarterback in three weeks while trying to snap a three-game losing streak on the road against the defending Arena Football League champions.
If anybody can understand what the Soul are going through, it's Chicago Rush coach Mike Hohensee, whose 6-1 team hosts the Soul tonight.
Last season, the Rush suffered a rash of injuries and barely qualified for the playoffs with a 7-9 record. In the postseason, Chicago caught fire and ended up winning four games and the AFL title.
The Soul are 4-3 but have lost three games in a row. They have been decimated by injuries and will play their second game without quarterback Tony Graziani, who is out at least four weeks with a sprained left shoulder.
"There is no doubt about it - we can identify with what they are going through," Hohensee said in a phone interview.
But don't expect much sympathy from the Rush.
"Nobody cared about us last year," Hohensee said. "We didn't win our sixth game until Week 15, and nobody was calling to see if we were OK."
And Hohensee won't be making any calls to the Soul or any other struggling team that is hanging in there.
"I understand what they are going through, but do I feel bad? No," he said. "We're here to win a game."
Hohensee has told his team all week that it can't look past the Soul.
"They have the ability to play great defense, and if you do, you have a chance to win games in the Arena Football League," he said.
Last week, the Soul claimed Clint Stoerner off waivers. He practiced for two days and was named the starting quarterback - a move that didn't work very well. Stoerner was unfamiliar with the offense, and it showed in a 44-21 loss at Columbus.
Coach Bret Munsey said that Graziani's original backup, Juston Wood, will be the starter against the Rush.
"Juston has had a good week of practice, and we expect him and the team to play well against Chicago," Munsey said.
Munsey expects the Soul to win the game, even though four starters will be out and a fifth, center Mike Mabry, is a game-time decision with a leg injury.
"You have to go in with that mind-set," he said. "We are banged up, but every team has injuries."
Hohensee said that as bleak as things looked a year ago, his players never stopped working their way out of the slump.
"It was the attitude of a team never giving up," he said. "We went through a stretch where we lost six of seven games and never stopped working hard, staying late after practice, watching film."
The Soul need to do the same, using the team they are trying to beat tonight as a source of inspiration.
When: 8 tonight.
Where: Allstate Arena (capacity 16,000), Rosemont, Ill.
TV/radio: ESPN2; WPEN-AM (950).
Records: Soul, 4-3. Rush, 6-1.
Coaches: For the Soul, Bret Munsey, second year (13-10 regular season, 1-1 postseason). For the Rush, Mike Hohensee, 13th year (57-42 regular season, 8-5 postseason).
Key injuries: For the Soul, WR Larry Brackins (hamstring) QB Tony Graziani (shoulder) DL Jason Davis (knee), WR-DB Mike Brown (hamstring) and WR-LB Sean Scott (hamstring) are out. OL Mike Mabry (leg) is a game-time decision. For the Rush, WR and former Eagle Carl Ford (knee) is out.
Last week: The Soul lost, 44-21, at Columbus. The Rush earned their sixth consecutive victory, winning at Grand Rapids, 75-54.
Points per game: For the Soul, 54.1; for the Rush, 58.9.
Opponents' points per game: For the Soul, 47.0; for the Rush, 46.4.
Series: The Soul lead, 2-1.
Most recent meeting: April 9, 2006. The Soul won, 56-55, at home in overtime.
Key players: For the Soul, Juston Wood will start at QB, replacing Clint Stoerner, who started last week. Wood has completed 21 of 43 passes for 230 yards and 6 touchdowns, with 3 interceptions. WR Charles Pauley has 45 receptions for 709 yards and 13 TDs. DB Eddie Moten leads the team in tackles (34), interceptions (6) and pass breakups (17).
For the Rush, DL E.J. Burt (formerly of the Soul) has five sacks and four forced fumbles. WR Bobby Sippio has 64 receptions for 1,010 yards and 32 TDs. QB Matt D'Orazio has completed 133 of 207 passes for 1,612 yards and 38 TDs, with seven interceptions.
Fast fact: The Rush have qualified for the playoffs in each of their previous six seasons in the AFL.
- Marc Narducci