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Clench: Chicago Fire vs New York City FC, MLS Week 32 Preview

We’ve clinched the playoffs, but there’s still drama ahead for us.

MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes
Pauno’s tactics have stayed pretty consistent throughout the season; but when he changes it up, EVERYTHING goes out the window.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Fire have been so unpredictable this season. One minute we’re losing 4-0 in Atlanta, the next we’re signing a German legend. We go on an amazing unbeaten streak, only to be stopped by a team playing down a man. We have a rash of injuries and lose miserably to a middling team, only to completely trounce a team still that’s still in the playoffs race. Now we come back home with Schweinsteiger and Accam most likely returning. Seems like a recipe for success, right? Or maybe we’re going to be unpredictable again. Let’s see who we’re up against.

This match doesn’t really seem to mean much for NYCFC, who have already clinched the playoffs along with us and Atlanta, but we’re all still very much jostling for position. While we are still 4 points behind them, anything can happen. Especially if it’s Atlanta who jumps them instead. NYCFC needs another three to give themselves a nice cushion for the games in hand Atlanta has. Here’s how they’ve been handling these recent events:

Vs. Colorado 9/16

Vs. Houston 9/23

Vs. Montreal 9/27

Three Keys

The Return

For the first time since he final home game last season, Sean Johnson will set foot in Toyota Park once again. There’s been plenty of debate about “how good he really is,” but a 70.8% save percentage doesn’t lie. He’s going to be tough to get past and I’m pretty sure he has a lot to prove to the team that shipped him off to be flipped like real estate by his hometown team after many years of service. Our one advantage on him is an acute knowledge of his flaws. Those include his distribution and inability to recover from mistakes. We need to look to force those two things to be our main focus on him.

You’ve Played Yourself

When NYCFC attacks, they attack full force. But then they stop. It seems like by the time they get to the goal-line, they don’t really know what to do with the ball and end up coughing it up in a stupid play. While at times the Fire are no better, this massive attacking force will leave them open in the back. If we can force the turnover on one of those plays and counter quickly enough, that’s a sure goal chance.

Bench Mob

In basketball, or at least college basketball that I know of, the term for really good depth and a bench that can basically be a secondary starting lineup is called the “Bench Mob”. Wednesday night, the Fire let loose their “Bench Mob”. Rick Sanchez looked amazing, Djordje was finally working up to potential, and Alvarez had some pretty shining moments. Unfortunately, they were only out there to rest the “real” starters. The question here is whether or not the success of the Bench Mob can translate to momentum for the first-choice XI. While there were many regulars in that lineup Wednesday, it may have been the Bench Mob that made that win. If the Fire were going to be predictably unpredictable, I expect Pauno to put out his usual lineup and lose. This might not be a bad thing, as it would push the decision to start those better “depth” players; but in the short term it means we probably drop out of any home field advantage.

Projected Lineups

Chicago Fire

New York City FC

How To Watch

Kickoff: Saturday September 30th, 7:30PM CDT, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL

TV/Streaming: CSN-Chicago, MLS Live

So how do you see it? Do you agree with me that this will be the reckoning of the Bench Mob? Or will the first XI continue the pace set for them? Or maybe you think that the Mob will get the start? Tell us what you think in the comments.