That escalated quickly. The Chicago Fire have taken the 2017 season by storm behind a rock solid defense, a midfield led by ex-German international Bastian Schweinsteiger, and MLS goalscoring leader Nemanja Nikolic.
The last time the Fire were heading out for a three game road trip, they were in third place and looking to prove themselves as a true contender. Now, they’ll be looking to strengthen their lead in the Supporters Shield race, as well as cement themselves as an MLS Cup favorite. (Crazy, I know.)
As the Fire get ready to kickoff in Oregon tonight, let’s take a look at the next three matches, all on the road. The last time the Fire had three straight away from Toyota Park, they only managed one point from a possible nine.
Away to Portland (7/5)
Portland Timbers, by name alone, will scare a lot of Fire supporters. A team that has sold out every home game since joining MLS, Providence Park is a tough place to play. The Timbers haven’t been short of goalscoring this season, either. Their 32 goals scored is good for first in the Western Conference, and 3rd in MLS overall. They’ve been helped to that record by attacking midfielder Diego Valeri and striker Fanendo Adi, who have scored 10 and 9 goals, respectively. Their goals against, however have been a problem. They have allowed the third most goals against for teams currently in playoff position.
Key Matchup: Valeri/Adi vs. Kappelhof/Meira. Something has to give between Portland’s potent attack and Chicago’s stout defense. The Fire have 9 shutouts in MLS play, and the Sounders have scored 2+ goals in 10 games this season. The Timbers will be looking to break the streak of four straight games without a win, but breaking through Chicago’s defense will be easier said than done. I predict they’ll find a way to get one, but that’s all.
PREDICTION: Portland 1 - 1 Fire
Away to NYCFC (7/22)
The second test for the Fire will have to wait more than two weeks, as the Gold Cup will provide a bit of a break for MLS players (well, for some MLS players). It’s possible that the Fire will be missing Dax McCarty, while NYCFC could be missing a number of players, with Sean Johnson, Miguel Camargo, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace called up to their respective national teams. NYCFC are streaking at the moment, climbing up to 3rd in the Eastern Conference behind a four game winning streak.
Key Matchup: Alexander Callens & Maxime Chanot vs. Nemanja Nikolic. As we all know, Nikolic has been a man on fire, leading the league with 16 goals and on pace to break the MLS scoring record. Callens and Chanot have been a tremendous center back pairing, with both earning over a 7.0 player rating in home matches this season. However, the power of Nemanja will be too much for NYCFC’s defense to handle.
PREDICTION: NYCFC 1 - 2 Fire
Away to Sporting KC (7/29)
In the Fire’s final match of the road trip, they’ll be at Children’s Mercy Park to face Sporting KC. This is the only time the Fire and SKC will square off this season, and it’s set to be quite the matchup. Kansas City have only allowed 13 goals in 19 matches, by far the best record in the league; meanwhile, the Fire have scored 8 goals in their last two.
Key Matchup: Benny Feilhaber vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger. I’m going to be honest, I never thought I would be describing a matchup between Benny Feilhaber and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but here we are. Feilhaber has been arguably the best player in the SKC side this season, with an average rating of 7.34 and 2 MOTM nods according to WhoScored. He’ll be in a midfield battle with Schweinsteiger, who has been vital to the confidence and ball control that have propelled the Fire to the top of the Eastern Conference. Even with how great Feilhaber has been, it’s impossible not to favor the German in this matchup.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 0 - 1 Fire
Let’s be honest, if the Fire are able to earn 7 points from 9 on this road trip, it would be quite the coup. However, the confidence they’re playing with and the beatings they’ve been handing out lately simply cannot be overlooked. I think that 6 points isn’t too much to expect, and if they’re able to accomplish that, they’ll be seriously thinking about hoisting the Supporters Shield.