Last weekend, the Chicago Fire were able to pick up an improbable on the road against the New York Red Bulls. The win amounted to what was probably the best performance the team had so far this year. Much of that was due to head coach Veljko Paunovic getting his starting lineup correct— a lineup that featured giving Mo Adams his debut and finally restoring Aleksandar Katai to the first XI.
However, there is some concern that Paunovic could shake up the team once again. It seems like the manager loves to tinker whenever he gets the chance, but could only end up overthinking his tactics for the Toronto FC game on Saturday.
Paunovic must resist this urge and roll out the same team that beat the Red Bulls.
Familiarity might breed contempt in most circumstances, but not in soccer. Teams that can afford to play the same starting XI week in and week out benefit to no end. Players begin to fully understand their roles, and start to develop legit chemistry with their teammates.
The starting XI that took the field against NYRB has some serious potential. Bastian Schweinsteiger is acclimating to his new position as libero, and has really added a calmness to a previous shaky backline. Johan Kappelhof has been as good as always, while rookie defender Grant Lillard has shown why many people have high hopes for the Homegrown Player. The central midfield pairing of Adams and Dax McCarty was especially promising, as the two defensive mids added a much needed stability for Chicago. The front three of Katai, Nemanja Nikolic, and Elliot Collier linked up well and will only get better as they develop chemistry.
This should be the starting lineup for the foreseeable future, at least until players like Matt Polster and Michael de Leeuw return from injury.
Another argument in favor for keeping the teamsheet unchanged from last week is the uncertainty surrounding Toronto’s lineup. The defending MLS Cup Champions played their starters in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final, which they went on to lose on penalty kicks. Having played such a physically and emotionally exhausting game three days earlier— to say nothing of the travel— makes it unlikely that Toronto will throw out their best XI against the Fire. Their B-team got trounced by Houston last weekend, but the Men In Red shouldn’t count on similarly meek opposition. It’s impossible to predict what Toronto will look like on Saturday. For that reason alone, Pauno should focus on what he and his squad can control. Where Toronto will need to cobble a teamsheet together from tired legs and leftover parts, the Fire can lean on stability by going with a lineup they know can win.
The Fire have a huge opportunity to pick up three points on the road against the defending champions. Chicago faces Toronto three times this season and, their current league troubles notwithstanding, this might be our best chance to tag an L on them. They will be tired, beaten, and bruised after a tough match set against Chivas. Opportunities like this don’t come often during the season, and the Fire must make the most of the gift given to them.