It was clearly the right move for the tournament. We even argued it should happen. But still, the Chicago Fire got a raw deal when they were forced to move to Group B of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Let’s face it. Group B’s opponents—the Seattle Sounders, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes are a tougher bunch than the old draw in Group A—which included expansion sides Inter Miami and Nashville SC. Raphael Wicky and his staff are now getting a late start preparing for the new teams. The Fire had to move through no fault of their own, and I really feel like MLS owes them something here, whether it’s allocation money, or maybe just a favor down the road.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Here are seven positives about the Fire’s last minute change:
More time to work on themselves
Chicago was one of the last teams to be cleared for full team training—they only got around two-and-a-half weeks in before leaving for Orlando. That, coupled with the fact that they were set to play on opening night of the tournament, was tough for a team with so many new faces. The change means the Fire will end up with a lot more time for Wicky to fine-tune his vision.
A “preseason” match under their belts
After the Nashville match was originally postponed, the Fire lined up a friendly with Minnesota United. The match only lasted a half before bad weather rolled in, but Chicago was winning 2-0 after goals from Fabian Herbers and Mauricio Pineda (Pineda’s was obscene. Check out the video below.) Most teams are rolling into their first matches not having played another team in months, so even that one-half of play against Minnesota should help.
Hi we think you're gonna like watching Mauricio Pineda play. pic.twitter.com/O82VwRQzR4— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) July 9, 2020
Seattle might be tired
Match one for the Fire (Tuesday, 8 a.m. CT, ESPN) is actually match two for Seattle. The Sounders play San Jose tonight, which is a fairly quick turnaround to Tuesday morning. Seattle is no doubt the favorite to win Group B, but maybe there’s some benefit to catching them when they’re a bit tired, as the Fire did earlier this year in the season opener when the champs had a quick turn after a Concacaf Champions League match. Speaking of that match...
Chicago has already played Seattle
It’ll be easier for Wicky to game plan for a team he’s already coached against. Plus, the Fire were in that first match until the very end, when Jordan Morris scored the winner in stoppage time. Yes, Seattle was tired after playing a Concacaf match a couple days earlier. But, the Fire were without several players who figure to play huge roles this season—Gastón Giménez, Ignacio Aliseda, Boris Sekulić, Luka Stojanović, and Miguel Navarro. I’m really interested to see how Morris fares lining up against Sekulić.
No more Group A confusion
Even after MLS fixed the rules for the old, six-team Group A, there was still one big issue. A team could take care of its own business, but would have to watch the scoreboard to see how the other teams were faring. With four teams, that’s not an issue now. You play everyone. Win your games, and you’re through to the knockout rounds.
Maybe Kappelhof and Azira can make it to Orlando
Both Johan Kappelhof and Micheal Azira are dealing with injuries, and had to stay behind. A team spokesperson said both players could join the team in Orlando if they recover in time. So, this delay could bring the Fire some more depth. I’ll say this—I have a strong feeling in a back four, Kappelhof is no longer a starter in Wicky’s eyes. I feel like Francisco Calvo and Pineda are now Wicky’s first-choice center backs, with Jonathan Bornstein at left back, and Sekulić at right back. If Wicky goes with three at the back, perhaps there’s room for Kappelhof.
No coronavirus issues
After what happened to FC Dallas and Nashville SC, the Fire are fortunate everyone with the club is coronavirus free. Whatever happens on the field in Orlando, that’s the biggest positive of them all.