We’ve reached the last 2 months of the season and somehow someway, the Chicago Fire are still in playoff contention. If you had a chance to read the boss’s playoff math post, you’d be forgiven for thinking the playoff chances are slim to none, and slim is packing their bags trying to catch the train out of town.
I, however, am looking at this from a less mathy point of view, because we know that the Fire will be kept in this race by the teams around them. The Red Bulls and DC is an even matchup where DC is perfectly capable of dropping points. The same can be said for Columbus, Atlanta, and Miami, the teams that are just ahead of the Fire. Montreal is always good for a late-season collapse as well, opening up another playoff spot for the teams below. All the Fire have to do is keep improving as they have been doing in the second half of the season. If they take care of that, then there’s no reason why they couldn’t make the playoffs.
Chicago Fire home/away MLS record vs Sporting Kansas City: 8W-9D-13L, 40 GF / 42 GA, 33 pts out of 90
The Fire catch Kansas City in probably the best time they could. They haven’t won since their August 14th 2-0 victory over FC Dallas, and are 0-3-1 since, including a 4-0 loss to LAFC last week while the Fire had the week off. They also have 2(!) red cards in the last 4 games as well, and will be without Roger Espinoza on Saturday.
First thing’s first, Francisco Calvo is both getting back from international duty, and is listed as questionable in the MLS Availability Report. For those reasons alone, he shouldn’t play. But also factoring in his form with Costa Rica, which has not been good, he probably shouldn’t play at all. That means Jonathan Bornstein shifts inside to the left CB role, and Miguel Navarro comes in to play at wingback.
The other major change is Federico Navarro, the Fire’s new 6 and transfer deadline move. He’s out of quarantine and has been practicing with the club since Wednesday. If he’s as good as his profile suggests, he should be ready to start for the club immediately, if not Wednesday. The player he would replace on the pitch would be Fabian Herbers for me, but I could see an argument for Gastón Gíménez as well. It depends on how conservative Wicky wants to be against the 3rd place team in the West.
The last bit is Luka starting at striker, as he should. Aliseda still recovering from his knock makes this decision easier.
Keys To The Match
Don’t Be Afraid: Peter Vermes teams like to straddle the line between acceptable physical play and violent conduct. If that wasn’t clear to the Chicago coaching staff, their 2 red cards in 3 games would be a big wake-up call. The Fire’s midfielders need to embrace the chaos and give as good as they get. Federico Navarro should help in that respect, and if for whatever reason he doesn't start, Fabian Herbers has never shied away from getting stuck in.
This is not to say that the Fire should cross that line, but if they can goad SKC into retaliating and take them off their game, they have a good shot at coming away with another 3 points on the road. What they absolutely cannot do, is fall into the trap they’re setting for SKC. They themselves need to tightrope the line between provoking and being provoked.
Score Goals: We saw against LAFC that SKC aren’t the most stable defense, especially when playing a player down. Pushing Luka upfield should help, but Robert Beric and Álvaro Medrán need to step up as well and take their chances. Kansas City like to have the ball, which means scoring opportunities are going to be few and far between, and that means you need to put the biscuit in the basket whenever you can.
How To Watch
Streaming: CFFC Live/ ESPN+
The Fire can win this game, but a lot has to go right. However, based on recent form, the Fire can get a draw out of this one. 1-1 final.