The Chicago Fire have reached the final five games in a very familiar position. They currently hold on to the final playoff spot in the east, have a game in hand on the rest of the field, and are going to be playing in a series of six point games to determine whether or not the season will be classified as a success.
More often than not in the last decade, they’ve failed to make the playoffs, but something does feel a bit different this year. This team is so incredibly close to being good... closer than any other time they’ve been close to being good. They’re a bad bounce and a VAR decision going their way to six more points and being comfortably in the playoff positions and they have both the talent and work ethic to be successful. I’m more optimistic going into next season than ever before since I’ve been writing for Hot Time, and part of me can’t wait for it to get here.
However, there’s still this season left and there’s still success to be had in 2020. The question is “Will this year be any different?” We’re about to have our answer.
Chicago Fire home MLS record vs New York Red Bulls/MetroStars: 16W-5D-9L, 50 GF / 29 GA, 53 pts out of 90
The Red Bulls are 2-2-1 in their last five games, but their wins against Orlando City and Atlanta happened close to two weeks ago. Their one loss was to Inter Miami, and they’ve drawn their last two games against Toronto and Orlando.
Djordje Mihailovic is off the injury report, so he should slot back into the front line that was the Fire’s most successful attacking setup with Herbers in the 10 spot and Aliseda on the left. Gastón Giménez will have to miss one more match, because a flight delay in South America held up his arrival to Chicago, so he’s still under quarantine for one more day. Miguel Navarro made it back in time, and will be available, but I still expect Jonathan Bornstein to get the start.
Keys To The Match
Control the Game: It feels like I say this every week, and it’s because I do. But there’s a reason for this non-game specific key. When you look at the games the Fire have been competitive and won, they did so because of their ability to impose their will on the opposition. Despite looking like more of a counter attacking team earlier in the year, this team has evolved into a team where the more possession they have, the more comfortable they are during the game. From there, their inefficiency in front of goal and lack of ability to play in quality crosses from out wide are made relatively unimportant. They can create as many scoring opportunities as they want, and eventually, one or two will go in.
This also has the benefit of the defense having to play less defense. I’ve harped on it all year, but more often than not, the central defense has let the team down in crucial moments. Whether from the run of play or more recently, set piece defending, the more the team controls the ball the less they have to defend. The less they defend, the more their win probability goes up.
Leverage the Central Midfield: I was a guest on the Seeing Red podcast this week, and one of the things I said, and didn’t expect to say, was that I believed that the Fire’s midfield, specifically the central triangle, is one of the best in the league. And the more I think about it, the more I believe it. It seems to me that they are just incapable of having bad games. Even when there’s a noticeable drop in quality, for example, during their game in Kansas City, they still had what could be called an acceptable performance. The core of Fabian Herbers, Álvaro Medrán, and Gastón Giménez almost never puts a foot wrong, and while Giménez is quarantining at the moment, Medrán and Herbers are still owning the center of the park alongside Mo Pineda’s rookie mistakes and Micheal Azira’s lack of match sharpness.
All of this is to say that the Fire need to ride the talent of this midfield to better results against better teams. The other players need to facilitate by making better and smarter decisions off the ball to give them space to work, and t benefit themselves by being in positions to take advantage of the quality passes that are coming to them. They need to let the game get sucked in to the middle, and then take advantage of the spaces left by the defense to put the ball in the back of the net.
How To Watch
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. CT
This is a game that could easily go either way, depending on which teams show up. Both the Fire and Metro-Bulls can roll over and die, or look like elite teams, which makes it hard to pick a winner. Therefore, I won’t. This game is going to finish in a draw. I’m guessing 2-2, but it could very easily end scoreless.