This is it. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for. The Fire are back to playing the loose coffee grinds at the bottom of the cup that is the Eastern Conference. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The Fire have lost trust with each other, and it shows with their play. The midfield is refusing to give the ball up to their center forward, and the defense is still giving up bad goals, only this time it’s communications breakdowns instead of poor individual play. They need something to go right or this season could spiral into the history books as the worst season in American organized soccer history.
Enter FC Cincinnati stage right. They’re in just as bad a shape if not worse off than the Fire. At least with the Men in Red, you can say that there’s talent on the roster. You can't really say the same about FCC. This is the perfect team for the Fire to start getting things right against. But if they don’t, changes will need to be made, and their manager should be out of a job.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs FC Cincinnati: 1W-2D-1L, 4 GF / 2 GA, 5 pts out of 16
Chicago Fire home MLS record vs FC Cincinnati: 1W-0D-1L, 4 GF / 2 GA, 3 pts out of 6
Along with Miami and the Fire, Cincinnati has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst teams in the league. Before the Nations League break, they had opened the season with one win against Montreal and a draw against Nashville in the opener but had a goal differential of -9 to start the season. Their 2-0 loss to Colorado at the weekend has them at -11, keeping them behind the Fire in the standings.
Do not adjust your eyes. You are not seeing things. Yes, I have Francisco Calvo back in my starting XI. He’s improved over the last few games and while he still has those communication issues I keep harping on, we haven’t seen any of the other center-back options really step up for the club, especially with Pineda moving up to the DM role with Gimenez at the Copa America.
As for the bit upfront, I detest the false 9 on principle. however, there are some unique circumstances where using it is a necessity. This is one of those times for the Fire. The midfield has clearly lost confidence in their #1 option in Robert Beric, and Chinonso Offor looks out of his depth when on the pitch. The solution, then, is to get a bit creative with the formation. Play Fabian Herbers as a false 9, get Medran and Luka running at defenders and try to slip them in for goals in the 18-yard box. Or spread the ball wide and have Guti and Aliseda curl shots in from outside. Do anything to get shots on target with players that feel comfortable.
Keys To The Match
Build on Your Midfield: The Fire’s midfield is the bright spot of the season. They’re regularly out-possessing and out-passing better teams. The trick is finding a way to turn all that possession and accurate passing into real scoring opportunities. They need to make better forward runs and find that key pass, true, but they also need to stop hesitating and shoot before a defender can take away the angle.
Play Together: Over the last couple of games, the players on the field have gotten more and more disjointed and out of sync with each other. On some level, it was always going to happen. When you lose two starters for long periods of time (a unique to MLS issue) you’re going to have some issues integrating their replacements. However, what’s going on is beyond that. The midfield doesn't trust their striker or their defense, the defense doesn’t trust each other, and everyone is playing their own game. They need to do some trust falls or something. Play as a team, and results will most likely improve, and even if they don’t, they’ll be less likely to embarrass themselves.
How To Watch
Streaming: CFFC Live/ ESPN+ (out of market)
The Fire have to win this game. That’s really all there is to say about it. However, until they prove they can score a goal or two, I’m not going to predict they can. The final score is going to be 1-0 to Cincinnati and then the panic will really start.