Now I’m not one for shameful hyperbole, but this team is on FIIIIAAAAHHH! Yes, it’s only two matches against teams of questionable talent, but the Chicago Fire are on a two-match winning streak and have sparked some optimism in their fan base for the first time since the dawn of the dinosaurs. It could all come crashing down tonight, as the Fire face off against their old rivals: the road trip. But the Fire’s trip north of the border could not have come at a better time as they face a Toronto FC side with half their roster currently occupying the infirmary ward. The match begins at 6:30 p.m. central time on CSN Chicago.
To say the injury bug has bit the Toronto FC side is an understatement. It’s more like the injury bug went out back and took a 2x4 to the lower regions of Toronto FC’s roster. As they enter tonight’s match, the squad will be without key starters Michael Bradley (knee sprain), Clint Irwin (quad injury) and Will Johnson (tibial plateau fracture) as well as Daniel Lovitz (knee injury) and Ashtone Morgan (foot injury). Forward Jozy Altidore, who has not played since mid-May with his annual hamstring injury, returned to practice on Wednesday and is a game-time decision.
Those injuries have played a major role in Toronto’s plunge down the standings, as they have only won three of their last 11 matches across all competitions, and just once in their past seven league matches. If injuries weren’t enough to persuade you of their recent woes, then look no further than the struggles of the Atomic Ant, Giovinco.
On paper, eight goals and six assists in 16 matches looks respectable for Giovinco, though far below the pace during last year’s unreal 22 goal/16 assist MVP season. Break it down by games, and you’ll notice Giovinco has not scored in league play since May 14, going scoreless in the past six matches. But goal scoring is just part of the story for the man from Turin, with his keen ability to set up teammates for scoring opportunities. Sadly for Toronto, he’s not helping teammates out much either, as he’s only notched one assist in the past six league matches.
Giovinco has looked pretty overwhelmed in past weeks in a classic case of trying to do too much yourself. He - and the rest of Toronto FC - will have to hope he can get some support, possibly in the form of fellow striker Jordan Hamilton. The big (6 ft 1 in., 196 lbs) 20-year-old from Scarborough, Canada has scored in two straight matches -his first two career starts - and looks to fill nicely into the Altidore role of big body companion to compliment Giovinco’s speed.
After reading the past few paragraphs, the question of how Toronto FC isn’t just a big, steamy dumpster fire may cross your mind. But Head Coach Greg Vanney has used the injury outbreak to tinker with his lineups to best match up against his opponents. Those combinations have at least kept the team competitive, as they’ve been within a goal of winning/drawing all but one of their past six draws/losses. A lot of that has been due to a defensive that has allowed just 19 goals in 16 matches, fourth-fewest in the league and a number is slightly inflated as the team gave up seven goals in two matches against the Red Bulls and the Whitecaps.
BMO Field has a new coat of paint (and a few thousand extra seats), but it remains one of the better home field advantages in the league, and Toronto has only lost once there this season in eight total matches. It’s stats like that that makes Fire fans shoot another loving gaze at the whiskey bottle.
Then, of course, there’s the chance Giovinco does Giovinco things and scores a hat trick with two assists.
I went this entire preview without mentioning the club’s MLS record 32 match road winless streak. Honestly, it’s moved beyond a topic of shame and one that’s just sort of just hanging out uncomfortably in the narrative apartment, eating all the snacks and refusing to leave. The only interesting new nugget is that it’s about to hit two years since the Fire’s last road win on July 12, 2014. The opportunity to end it is practically being handed to them on a silver platter tonight thanks to Toronto FC’s injuries and recent struggles, and I think the Fire finally do it. I said in the past I could never pick the Fire on the road until they proved they could win there, but rules are made to be broken, baybah! I have the Fire taking it 2-1.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?