As good as the Fire’s start to the season has been, in the back of my head, the lingering thought that they’ve gotten lucky has always been lurking. They caught SKC without their Designated Players, Dallas without their national teamers, and by and large have been paired against teams on the lower half of the MLS quality scale.
That changes this weekend when they play against the LA Galaxy. This is the first real team of quality, and it will tell us all we need to know about how much the Fire have come and how far they still need to go to become the kind of team they want to be. If you can hang with one of MLS’s elite teams for 90 minutes, even if you come out with an L, you can at least have the measuring stick. You can know where you are in the grand scheme of things. And if you come away with a win, somehow, you’ve just made a statement.
The Chicago Fire are good, and they’re here to stay.
Chicago Fire home MLS record vs LA Galaxy: 9W-3D-10L, 27 GF / 27 GA, 30 pts out of 66
The LA Galaxy currently stands second in the Western Conference on 12 points— a point off of first. They’re 2-0-1 in their last three games, with their one loss being a home game against Orlando City. They won El Trafico against LAFC last week and beat Portland in Portland 3-1 with both teams having a player get sent off.
I'm putting in two lineups here, one if Xherdan Shaqiri can go, and one if he can’t.
With No Shaqiri and no Gutierrez, there needs to be a radical shift in formation, and how the team plays. Going to a 4-4-2 in this situation makes the most sense because it would get the best available XI on the field and because it’s the most basic of basic formations, and everyone should know how to play it. It lets the Fire press two high into the backline instead of one, creating numbers in their press helping create quick turnovers and chances at goal. It also keeps a balance on defense with two banks of four and shouldn’t allow Chicharito and co. too much freedom.
As for the personnel choices, Offor played on the left wing at times for the Fire before, and Jonathan Bornstein just isn’t good enough to do the job, at least, not for 90 minutes. Durán gets the start up top because of his ability to keep possession and for his dynamic runs.
If Shaq is in the lineup, I’d go with this. Herbers is still day-to-day, so we don’t know if he’s going to be able to play or not. If he does, he slots in for Offor in both lineups.
The reason Fede Navarro is in for Pineda here is all about balance. With Shaq, the Fire don’t need Pineda’s help in the attack but will need Fede’s ability to plug holes when LA has the ball, whereas in the more balanced 4-4-2. that shouldn’t be that big of an issue.
Keys To The Match
Chicharito: It’s not often a player in and of themselves is described as a key to the game. 99% of the time, they’re usually about systemic things a team needs to do to be successful. But this is that 1% game where everything is going to revolve around one player. Javier Hernandez is it. The game is going to completely revolve around him and how he’s playing.
If he’s going good, the Fire are in trouble. No matter how good the Fire defense has been, he’s one of those guys where if he’s on, there’s no stopping him. Conversely, if he’s off, or if the Fire can frustrate him, they should have a pretty easy time with everyone else. As Chicharito goes, so go the Galaxy. Stop him, and you’re golden... good luck with that.
Figure out the Offense: It’s no secret that while the Fire’s defense has gotten all the talking points and fanfare (as it should, it’s been remarkable) the lack of offensive production has been just as impactful on the season. If it wasn’t so bad, the Fire probably beat Miami and Orlando at the start of the season, as well as Dallas, and that extra 6 points would have the Fire at 15 points and 1 point off of Philadelphia. They’ve got to get it together and what better time than now against a good team they’re probably going to have to outscore to win.
How To Watch
Streaming: CFFC Live/ ESPN+ Out of Market
If Shaq plays the Fire have a good chance and coming away with 3 points. If he doesn’t, I expect a draw is the best they can come away with. I’m not even going to try to make a prediction.