For a lot of reasons, Chicago Fire FC midfielder Fabian Herbers expects a very different match Thursday morning against the Vancouver Whitecaps (8 a.m. CT, ESPN) than the team faced in Sunday night’s 2-0 loss to San Jose at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
For starters, San Jose chased the Fire all over the field with a man marking defense that gave Chicago players fits. Vancouver plays a more traditional defensive style. Then, there’s the fact that it’s another early kickoff, which have been notoriously sweltering.
“Now going back to early morning, probably expect a little bit lower intensity,” Herbers said. “But expect a little bit more possession. It’s important for us that we move the opponent, you know, from side to side and then try to penetrate when we can, when we get the spaces and obviously be good with the ball and don’t run into counterattacks, which they do have fast guys up front. We have to be aware of that.”
Vancouver enters the game on two losses, needing to win by a big margin to have any hope of advancing to the tournament’s knockout stage. Chicago moves on to the Round of 16 with a win or a draw, and can even advance with a loss, but that gets tricky. For his part, Raphael Wicky isn’t taking any chances.
“Like I always said, and I repeat myself, there’s no easy games here,” Wicky said. “It’s not because they lost two games that there is going to be an easy game. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s a tournament. There‘s not a lot of rest time between our last game and their last game, so we will see, but I expect a similar style like they did in the last two games.”
There’s also the issue of injuries. Yes, Chicago will be without attacking midfielder Luka Stojanović, who injured his MCL on Sunday.
But, Vancouver will enter the match missing several attacking players, a key defender, and with just one available goalkeeper. Maxime Crepeau broke his thumb against Seattle, and backup Bryan Meredith had to leave the tournament because of the sudden death of his mother. That leaves 21-year-old Homegrown Thomas Hasal. If he goes down, the Whitecaps will need to insert a field player as goalkeeper.
MLS has a system in place to help teams sign emergency goalkeepers, but several things went wrong all at once, and there’s no one left for the Whitecaps to sign, according to a report by MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert.
“I think we are going to the game to win,” Herbers said. “We wouldn’t go with a mindset to a draw could be enough. We are going to the game to win it. What Vancouver’s situation is, isn’t really important to us that much, as we just go into it attacking, try to have possession, try to have control over the ball to not give them too much space and opportunities to counterattack us.”
Fabian Herbers: “I saw a couple teams actually packing their suitcases yesterday and were leaving the bubble. We don't want to be a team like that. We want to stay here and we want to go, yeah, possibly to the very end and make it as far as possible.” #cffc #cf97 #MLSisBack pic.twitter.com/40DhOh9kNN— Patrick McCraney (@patrickmccraney) July 22, 2020
Some of the teams have already started exiting the MLS is Back “bubble” at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. After Thursday’s match, at least one of these two teams will join them.
Wicky is confident it won’t be the Fire.
“We are in a very good position,” Wicky said. “We put ourselves with the win against Seattle in a very good position. Everything depends on us. We are not depending on other teams. We are not depending on other results. Everything is in our own hands and that’s what we are focusing on.”