After another futile effort on the road, the Chicago Fire return to Toyota Park to face off against the the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Impact. The Fire will be welcoming more than just our Canadian brethren to the pitch, as the match will also see the return of the Harry Shipp, the Fire’s one-time golden boy whose offseason trade shocked the fanbase. There’s no guarantee that offensive fireworks will go off, but emotions are sure to run high. The match at Toyota Park begins at 4 p.m. on CSN Chicago.
A Wild Shipp Approaches, But Will He Be Super Effective?
The best narrative going into this game is undoubtedly the return of Harry Shipp. The future was was bright for the homegrown player just six months ago, as Shipp still appeared to be the face of the franchise who the new management could build the rest of the squad around for years to come.
Of course, that dream ended in mid-February, when Shipp was traded to Montreal for general and targeted allocation money. Since crossing the border, Shipp has continued to do what he does, notching two assists and acting as an overall lynchpin for the Impact’s offense. Shipp has already expressed his excitement to come back home Saturday, so we shall see if he uses the trade to force Fire management to see what they’re missing out on.
Can I Get A Goal? (or two, preferably three)
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before, but the Fire’s offense has stunk this year. We’ve covered the offensive ineptitude in several pieces, but just a friendly reminder than the Fire have five goals in five games and a league-worst 14 shots on goal. Those numbers are already bad enough without factoring in that the Fire have just two goal on five shots on goal in their last four matches combined. Lots of words have been typed and profanity dropped to explain the ineptitude, so it would be swell if they could put some of that to rest with a goal or two - even though offensive spark plug David Accam is expected to miss Saturday’s action.
Our Defense May Actually Be Pretty Swell, Ehh?
What’s kept the Fire in matches this year has been the pleasant surprise of a lockdown defense that has been a mixture of smothering opponents with pressure and Matt Lampson doing his best impression of a brick wall in front of goal. As our Trevor Moore noted, the club is on the verge of breaking its record for longest streak without conceding a goal. We sit on edge of our seat in anticipation of the Fire keeping Montreal scoreless until the 40th minute, which would break the current record of 395 minutes set in 2009.
Campbell and Kappelhof have developed a nice rapport in the backfield, and perhaps no better example of that was in the final 20 minutes against NYCFC when they held firm against an offensive barrage. They’ll need to stay strong, especially if Montreal plugs Didier Drogba into the lineup.
We’ve already touched on Harry Shipp, but he’s just part of the reason why Montreal is sitting atop the Eastern Conference in the early part of the season. Fellow midfielder Ignacio Piatti remains one of the best in the business, with three goals and two assists through five games. He controls the ball in the middle of the field, and acts as a one man wrecking crew who can just as easily bury the ball in goal as he does set up his teammates.
As a whole, Montreal’s speed and willingness to go forward on the counter has given teams fits this season. And when they score, the floodgates usually open with the Impact having scored three goals in a match twice this season. And all of this is without last year’s favorite almost-Fire, Didier Drogba. The Ivorian has not played yet due to the Impact’s early schedule games on artificial turf, but the attacker is expected to play Saturday. The potential for in-game rust should give some hope to the Fire, especially after Drogba torched Chicago with four goals in two matches against them last season.
As written, it sounds as if the Impact will just march into Chicago, end the home side’s scoreless streak, and burn and pillage Toyota Park until it’s just ashes surrounded by concrete. And while there’s no denying the IMpact’s skills, there are some signs of hope for the Fire. For a team that has scored eight goals in five matches, the Impact have been shut out twice this season - both in their last three matches. Even though Montreal rebounded from those losses with a 2-0 home win last week against Columbus, those watching the game could credit a large part of the Impact’s victory due to the Crew’s continued early season struggles. The away side had numerous opportunities to put up goals, but self-inflicted wounds led to a deflating loss. The Fire may be able to enforce their will on the Impact if they continue to struggle as they have in recent weeks.
Betting Line and Predictions:
Betbrain.com has the probabilities as follows: A 36 percent chance for a Chicago Fire win, Montreal Impact with a 29 percent chance of a win, and a 35 percent chance for a draw.
Saturday may be the toughest match the Fire have had all season, as the Impact may have the best talent on-paper of any squad in the east. Until the Fire show a consistency to score mixed with their surprisingly excellent defense, it should be a close match-up. One hopes they can spoil Shipp’s homecoming, and with Montreal’s recent struggles, it doesn’t feel out of line to suggest the Fire can walk away with three points. However, I’m going with a 1-1 draw, with Montreal’s goal coming late enough in the game to let Chicago break the scoreless streak record.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below!