The Chicago Fire’s first big test in a while is upon us.
Sporting Kansas City come in to this game third in the Western Conference and just a point out of second, and are the first real team the Fire have played in 4 games. As a quick reminder, that game was against Orlando City and the Fire imploded under the pressure, including a disastrous fight over who would take a penalty.
The good news is that the Fire have seemed to galvanize themselves since then and have come away from it with renewed confidence and 7 points out of 9. Robert Beric has scored a goal in five straight games, and the team as a whole are starting to find the confidence needed to go on and win games. The challenge the Fire now face is that they have to go do that against a good team. A win or even a well fought tie would place them in a level above the muck that is the bottom of MLS, where a loss would leave them as the best of the bad teams.
It’s time for another test.
Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Sporting Kansas City/Kansas City Wizards: 8W-12D-9L, 40GF / 41 GA, 36 pts out of 87
SKC are proof that in MLS, the line between good and okay is as thin as a piece of string. Before beating Houston last weekend, they had lost two in a row and three of their last 5 games. They lost to the aforementioned Dynamo on September 5th, and lost to FC Dallas on the 19th and Orlando City on the 23rd
Gastón Giménez and Miguel Navarro are gone for the foreseeable future. Between being released to their national teams and the quarantine they have to go through to come back, the Fire will be without them for around 5 games. So what to do? The simple solution is what I did here. Bornstein comes in for Navarro, obviously, and with Johan Kappelhof back, he slots nicely back into his starting CB roll, while Mauricio Pineda moves back to the 6 role, where he played throughout his time in the academy, and in the first game of the season against Seattle, before Giménez got here.
The other change I made is putting Sapong into the lineup to try to add some width back into the squad. Their biggest problem against the Impact was their lack of ability to get out wide, and Sapong has the ability to stretch the defense horizontally as well a vertically. That leaves who to take out. Both Djordje and Aliseda are playing really well, so I chose Djordje for Wednesday against KC, but he could very well be in the lineup Saturday.
Keys To The Match
Be Adaptable: One of the things I noticed during the Fire’s little run the past two weeks is that while they were successful and finally scoring goals, they were a bit one dimensional. A lot of their best moves came from the middle and when the ball went out wide, attacks would wither and die.
Teams are starting to figure this team out. We saw it against Montreal and more than likely, we’ll see it against Kansas City. The Fire need to figure out how to successfully go wide and get proper service into Beric and anyone else involved in the attack in order to continue their upward trend.
Cover up their Mistakes: There are going to be changes to the defense Wednesday and possibly more than just slotting Jonny Bornstein in for Navarro. With these changes, there will be taxation and inevitable mistakes in the back. The best the defense can do is make sure that their individual focus and concentration does not waver. The only way they’re coming out of Kansas with points is for the individual players to step up their performance and cover their communication errors with playmaking.
How To Watch
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Fire are ready to win games against good teams, regardless of their current form. This is going to be a lot like their games against Orlando and Columbus. They’re going to fall short after a good fight.
My prediction: SKC wins 2-1.