After suffering the toughest loss of the year Tuesday, the Chicago Fire will return to Toyota Park Sunday to try and move forward as best they can. A win Sunday won’t do much to change the fortunes of the team but it could go a little way in bringing back some positive vibes to the fan base.
The Fire will get an Orlando City side that has struggled mightily on the road this season. These two teams met in the second week of the season and played to a 1-1 draw thanks to a David Accam goal.
Since that time, both teams have gone through their own struggles and changes. Orlando City sacked longtime manager Adrian Heath and brought in Jason Kreis to turn things around.
To get a better understanding of this new look Orlando City, Michael Citro from The Mane Land stopped by to talk about the coaching change, road struggles and hope for a playoff push.
Hot Time: I obviously have to ask about the coaching situation. Adrian Heath was a big part of Orlando City’s rise to MLS. How was the reaction from the fans after he was sacked and what does it say about the club’s culture and ambition, which has been a bit of a talking point?
Citro: There was a bit of a mixed reaction from the fan base. Some longtime supporters thought it a bit unfair to sack a coach who was even on points for the last playoff spot (although below the red line on tiebreakers) at that point in the season when the star player management built around had missed half the team’s games.
Some were glad to see him go, being critical of his use of substitutions, blaming him for late-game breakdowns that saw wins turn into draws (or draws into losses), and for rigidly clinging to a single formation — you know, the norm when fans are unhappy with the manager. Many will point to that bad loss at Dallas on the heels of a U.S. Open Cup loss to Fort Lauderdale, but the Lions were on a five-game MLS unbeaten streak entering the Dallas game and badly out-played the Strikers without finding the net.
As for the club, it has always been ambitious but perhaps some of the folks at the top were a bit impatient or just were never sold on Heath as an MLS head coach. The history of expansion clubs in MLS speaks largely for itself. Heath himself had often talked about a three-year plan and how the club was still on track. He left without ever having felt he had acquired “his own guys” (quotes mine, not his). The availability of Jason Kreis and the interest other teams were known to have in the former Cup-winning coach may have forced an early move. After all, Heath could have won his next two matches and got back above the red line, and then how do you fire him?
Hot Time: Speaking of coaches, your team decided to bring in Jason Kreis who plays a very distinct style. How has the transition been so far and do you ultimately think his tactics will work with the team’s personnel?
Citro: So far, the transition has been about as expected. The first match produced a boost in play as players tried to impress the new coach and the fans got behind the team to give an emotional lift at home. The next outing we saw some growing pains with the players showing signs of two weeks of intense training, as Kreis works them hard to install his philosophies and systems as quickly as possible. Kreis doesn’t necessarily have all the pieces to run his style just yet and he’s still trying to figure out who can and can’t adjust.
To his credit, Kreis has tried to keep his changes gradual. I think the current roster can support what Kreis likes to do, but there’s probably too many midfielders and too few forwards to make the change full stop and an upgrade in fullbacks is necessary. I think we’ll continue to see a gradual shift between now and the end of the season.
Hot Time: Orlando City has struggled a bit this year with only one more win than the lowly Fire, but your league-leading 11 draws has kept you in the playoff hunt. Is there optimism among the fan base that a playoff run is possible or is there some anger seeing the struggles while fellow expansion team New York City FC is riding high?
Citro: Both. I think the talent on this club is sufficient to get the Lions into the playoffs, even though the back line has been an issue all season. We’ve seen this team play well against some of the top teams and fall flat against some of the bottom dwellers. There is optimism among the fans that Kreis can right the ship in time to make a playoff push, but the team will need to scrape out some results during the settling in period and stay in touch with that red line, especially on the road, where Orlando City has not been able to get results, unlike New York City.
We’ve seen some fans on social media who point to New York City FC’s success this year as evidence that Heath needed to go. Never mind that NYCFC has three multi-million-dollar DPs and one of the league’s hottest rookies. Our fellow sophomore club has done a much better job of jettisoning dead weight and replacing those players with more useful pieces in year two than Orlando has. That said, the Lions have a win and a draw on the road against the soccer Yankees in the first two meetings.
Hot Time: What is your predicted lineup and score?
Citro: The big question is whether Kevin Molino will be healthy enough to play. Jason Kreis was optimistic about him in the middle of the week, even though the Trinidadian international hadn’t yet returned to full training. David Mateos and Antonio Nocerino are suspended. I think we’ll see something like this:
Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Tommy Redding, Seb Hines, Kevin Alston; Servando Carrasco, Cristian Higuita; Brek Shea, Kaká, Kevin Molino (or Hadji Barry); Cyle Larin.
On paper, this is a game Orlando should win, but I can’t predict a victory for a team that has no road wins since March. I’ll say it’s a 2-2 draw.