Ahead of the Fire’s trip south to face Orlando City, we sat down with Logan Oliver from our friends at The Mane Land to talk through the game.
Hot Time In Old Town: Orlando have made some headlines early this season for coming from behind to get a result. Are OCSC leaning into that somewhat? Or are they writing it off as a weird run and focusing on getting results in a more consistent and stable way?
The Mane Land: The comeback phase has been an interesting one. At first, it was scrappy, dig deep victories with flurries of attacks in the second half. Then against matches like Real Salt Lake and Colorado, the Lions legitimately looked like the better team but still surrendered early goals. It has been far too constant this year to be able to write it off (City has conceded first in all but two matches this year), but enough of it has been small, individual mistakes from various players that it could just be a matter of time before Orlando gets on the front foot more often than not.
HTIOT: Who would you say is the *lowkey* most important member of the squad right now?
TML: It depends on how you define “lowkey.” Sacha Kljestan has been quietly performing in the middle of the park, creating plenty of chances and even scoring a few of his own. But he’s been overshadowed by Dom Dwyer, the meteoric rise of Chris Mueller, and Yoshimar Yotún’s stellar play. Cristian Higuita has been even more lowkey given he’s not a big name, but he was incredibly influential in Orlando’s six-game win streak with his ability to win the ball in midfield and his extended range of passing from previous years. He’s scored a couple of great goals, too.
HTIOT: If there’s anything about this weekend’s game that would make you feel apprehensive, what would it be?
TML: The attack has looked disjointed without Dom Dwyer this year. Stéfano Pinho is not the same kind of striker and there is a lack of a finishing touch in midfield. It’s not a coincidence that Orlando has scored just three goals without Dom on the field and 18 with him.
HTIOT: Is the team planning anything to commemorate the Pulse Nightclub shootings next month?
TML: The club will host two “Pride in our City” nights during June, one at the Orlando Pride match against Sky Blue FC on June 16 and again during Orlando City’s only home match of the month on June 23.
TML: Chicago sent David Accam to Philadelphia for a hefty sum over the off-season. How has the Fire attack coped without the winger?
HTIOT: We’re definitely missing the production and creativity that 2017 David Accam delivered. Our “replacement” for him was Aleksandar Katai, but he’s not quite the same kind of player and obviously isn’t producing goals and assists at the same level as Accam last year. But if you look at David Accam’s numbers this season for Philly, you’ll see that he’s really fallen off a cliff. And I don’t think it’s just because it’s Philly. I think if we hung on to Accam he would’ve entered into a similar slump and we’d be no better off right now. So, I don’t know, six of one half dozen of the other, I suppose.
TML: The Fire were the surprises of 2017 but have struggled this seasonand have won just one game in their last five. What has been the biggest cause for the drop-off?
HTIOT: Haha how much time have you got? Pretty much a lot of our key players are on lengthy injury layoffs, including, most recently, Dax McCarty. Our biggest miss right now is Matt Polster, who’s been struggling with injuries since preseason and last week suffered an MCL tear right as he came back to training. The team doctors are saying September or October for his return, but personally I think his season is done. And it really sucks, because he turned out to be a pretty crucial piece of the puzzle for us. So, we have a lot of injuries to key players and then the guys we have left just aren’t stepping up. It doesn’t help that some of Veljko Paunovic’s decision-making with the teamsheets and substitutions have been, uh, dubious. So there’s kind of a lot going on right now.
TML: Chicago has been linked to several big name European stars in recent months. Is this team an Iker Casillas or Fernando Torres away from shooting back up the table again?
HTIOT: Honestly, no. I’ll definitely take Fernando Torres or some other big name, because at this point every position on the pitch is one we can improve on. But we’re not one rockstar DP from competing. We need a few more players and also some of our injured squad members to hurry back.
TML: What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
HTIOT: lol everyone’s hurt and we’re dying