As we kick off my 10th year of covering the Chicago Fire for Hot Time in Old Town, I am reminded of my very first. The Fire had just come off a very disappointing 2011 season. The collapse of the Blanco era was finally over, and we were unknowingly settling in for close to a decade of futility. I’ve only covered 2 winning seasons here, and only 2017 gave me the kind of Joy where doing this has never felt like a job.
But I have a good feeling about this year. The Fire finally have a big name number 10 again in Xherdan Shaqiri, who has the skill and experience to lead a young energetic squad to glory not seen on the lakefront since the Bush administration. The early signs on Jhon Durán are that he was worth snapping up a year before he could legally join the squad. And Rafael Czichos looks to be the calming presence that the team desperately needs.
I cannot wait for kickoff.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Inter Miami: 1W-0D-1L, 3 GF / 3 GA, 3 pts out of 6
Chicago Fire home/away MLS record vs Inter Miami: 0W-0D-1L, 2 GF / 3 GA, 0 pts out of 3
Inter Miami comes into the season with an overhauled roster and a dream. Their highest-profile arrival is American right back DeAndre Yedlin, who’s looking to get back into the national team picture after being usurped by Sergiño Dest. Meanwhile, Gonzalo Higuain is without his older brother Federico, who retired and is an assistant for Miami’s MLS Next project. Expect them to attack quickly and spread the field down the flanks, while looking to cross the ball into the box to their dangermen.
In conclusion, Miami have questions up front and have attempted to solidify their less than stellar defense with a lot of international experience. Sound familiar?
This is the safest possible lineup I could think to make. While I would like to think Hendrickson would start Durán over Offor on the left, on opening day, I think he’s going to lean on guys with MLS experience, and I think Offor is better than Ivanov at this point.
As for the 6, Fede’s lack of playing time in preseason worries me a bit, and while there is a drop-off between he and Mauricio Pineda, it’s not so big where I’d risk a major injury to one of your most important pieces in the first game of the season. I expect Navarro to still be in the 18, and we’ll probably see him at some point in the second half if he isn’t 90 minutes fit. If he is fit though, expect him to start.
Keys To The Match
Pressure High: One of the big things that Ezra has emphasized over the preseason is being more aggressive on defense. Under Wicky, the Fire were a decent pressing team, but oftentimes, it was chaotic and disjointed. If they want to not just beat Miami, but be something in MLS, they need to start pressing high as a unit. It can't just be one person pushing forward, it has to be everyone. Force Miami’s back line into making hurried passes, create turnovers, and score on the break. If the Fire do that early enough, they can cruise to a win
Finish Chances: Robert Beric’s failures were many. He often misread the game state, ending up in the wrong areas at the wrong times. However, his biggest sin was his inability to put away scoring chances. Over the winter the Fire brought in Kasper Przybylko from Philadelphia to try and fix this. And if he doesn’t do the job, Jhon Durán and a handful of Fire Academy kids are ready to take his job. Regardless of who’s doing the goal-scoring, someone has to do it if the Fire wants to win.
How To Watch
Television: WGN TV
Streaming: CFFC Live (in market)/ ESPN+ (where not blacked out)
I think the Fire have a good shot to get at least 3 points in their first game. In fact, I’d expect nothing less. 1-0 to the Men in Red.