It is not often I go into a Chicago Fire road match with a smile on my face and feeling great.
Holders of the most notorious streak in MLS, the Fire is often a chore to watch when they hit the road. When it has literally been years since you have won a road match, supporters are well within reason to dread watching any road game.
But Saturday is different. The Fire could lose 5-0 and extend the streak to 35 matches and I would be OK with it. That is, as long as these things happen.
1. STAY HEALTHY: For the love of God, do not let anything happen to the always fragile David Accam. Players like Michael de Leeuw, John Goossens and others are obviously very important, but perhaps no one is as prone to injury as Accam. Accam is a fine-tuned athlete that pushes each ligament and muscle to the max with his lightning fast runs. Someting could go wrong on any given play. Just sit him. Let Joey Calistri get his legs back, give Kennedy Igboananike the load, it doesn’t matter. Just protect Accam.
And Matt Polster, if you decide not to challenge for a ball in an aerial duel, we’ll all understand. We don’t need any concussions either. Everyone stay healthy.
2. Attack: The last time these two teams met in May the Fire took a whopping four shots and none of them were on target as they fell 2-0. That’s boring and frankly a little pathetic. But that’s not why I am calling for an all out attack in this game. I am calling for all-out attack because you want to make New England run as much as you can. Yes, the U.S. Open Cup game is not until Aug. 9 which is plenty of time for the Revolution to recover, but the more they have to work until that game, the better.
If the Fire put up 20 shots and none are on target, so be it. But get those shots off and keep the pressure up. New England might counter and score five times, but that’s a sacrifice worth making. After this game, New England has road matches against Orlando City and Toronto FC, two games they must take seriously if they want to hold on to the sixth and final spot in the playoffs. Wear them out now and they won’t have much chance to recover.
3. Change Formations: No need to stay in any one formation for too long. Mix up the personnel, mix up the shape, make any change throughout the game to keep New England a little off balance. There will be a time to play as hard and smart as possible, which will require the best players in the best positions, but that time is Aug. 9. No need to show the exact shape and pace you are going to bring on Aug. 9 right now. Being, in essence, a different opponent on Saturday than what you will be on Aug. 9 certainly can’t hurt.
I like to call it the George Foreman strategy. The former heavyweight champion was famous for boxing at 75 to 80 percent in early rounds, giving his opponent an idea of how hard he punches and quick he moves. Once the later rounds rolled around, Foreman would unleash the 100 percent power shots and the shock of the difference would floor opponents. Even if they knew it was coming, it’s different to know than to actually feel it.
As you can tell, I am not putting much stock into this game. Honestly, if the Fire managed to break the road winless streak this game I don’t think I would be as elated as if they did it at a different point in time. I am so all-in on this Cup run, I just don’t think breaking the streak now would make me as happy as I probably should be for such a feat.
And it is not that I will have no expectations for any MLS game the rest of the way. It’s really just this one in particular. In the two games against New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake before the Aug. 9 game, I am going to want to see the Fire playing good soccer and building some confidence going into the match.
But this match is all about preservation and doing what you can to wear down New England just a little before their crucial two-game stretch before Aug. 9.
And remember ... stay healthy!