Wednesday night the Chicago Fire travel north of the border to Toronto, Ontario to face MLS cellar dwellers Toronto FC at BMO Field. The Fire are coming off a 10 day break from league action, but recently played Santon Laguna of the Mexican MX League to a 2-2 draw with an impressive display from many fringe and reserve players. Toronto, meanwhile, last played in a 2-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City with Ryan Johnson netting for the Canadian club. Last time these two teams met north of the border, the Men In Red brought home three points after a 3-2 win with goals from Dominic Oduro after 25 seconds, Gonzalo Segares, and Patrick Nyarko.
That game handed Toronto yet another loss in their remarkable nine-match losing streak to start the season from which they have never fully recovered staying rooted at the bottom of the East and the entire league since the season started. On the other hand, the Fire are making a push to rise to the top of the East and can move to second place and three points behind first by claiming victory in Canada. Chicago has a solid chance of doing just that, but must not take Toronto lightly. After the break are some key points to observe that will ensure victory for our Chicago Fire.
With a full strength squad, Toronto has looked a strong side, but prone to making critical errors at the worst possible times. The team available to Paul Mariner on Wednesday will not be anywhere near a full strength side as six players are on the injury report and another six is away on national team duty. In fact, the players unavailable would represent a fair reflection of the first team meaning this may be a glorified run out for the reserve team.
This isn't to say TFC can't still field a competitive team. Milos Kocic has had enough gameday experience over the past few seasons considering Stefan Frei's seemingly regular injuries and the various past coaches' various lineup rotations. Eric Avila can still pull strings from a wide position, Luis Silva can be dangerous up top, and Darren O'Dea may provide solid resistance against the Chicago forwards. But the Fire can break down this makeshift Toronto team if enough pressure is exerted.
Chicago is the superior squad and must play accordingly by imposing their will with the ball. Pavel Pardo will be instrumental to controlling the tempo of the game on the attacking end and destroying any counter-attacks Toronto will try to muster. Sherjill MacDonald should look to take his target forward game a little more direct against a struggling TFC backline opening up space for Chris Rolfe to make late runs into the box. With Avila probably having to provide the brunt of the attacking force for the Reds, whoever mans the right wing for the Fire will have to track back and be ready to break on the counter-attack.
I specifically did not mention Patrick Nyarko since I think this would be a good game for him to get rest and test some of the depth the Fire claim to have on the wing. Corben Bone, Victor Pineda, or the newly acquired Wells Thompson could see time out wide to give Nyarko a little more time to heal for the massively important stretch run of games including a quick turnaround to face Montreal at home Saturday evening. Frank Klopas would do well to rest a couple usual starters giving young guys a run with the first team against a severely compromised last place team. I would also prefer to see Daniel Paladini start over Logan Pause, no matter how much the captain wants to play, for the same reasons I have of resting Nyarko. In a should-win/must-win game in hostile territory, it would be good to see who can really step up in important situations when asked.
And, realistically, this should be a three-point trip to Canada. The home side will be missing their team leaders in every main statistical category except Logan Emory who leads the team in red cards. Though Eric Hassli may be back from injury providing more potency up top, Toronto still does not have the talent all over the field to intimidate the Fire.
What I will be most looking for from this match is Alvaro Fernandez to step up and contribute to the attack throughout the game like an effective DP should, the attack to exploit the seams in the opposing defense with precise passing, clinical finishing from MacDonald, and defensive focus to record the first shutout in the last seven matches. These keys will ensure a necessary victory and keep the march towards the playoffs rolling.