The Chicago Fire coaching staff has a unique opportunity this weekend. It’s not often that you get to play a team for the second time this early in the season. Unlike baseball or in a playoff series, there are usually no opportunities like this in soccer. Normally there are months in between meetings and teams have the opportunity to change and evolve in between. That’s not happening this weekend.
The Fire and Orlando City are playing each other for the second time in a month. Both teams are still largely the same minus their best defender. They’re both still trying to figure out their attack, and neither team has really changed the way they play. This gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate the early impact of the coaching staff, and see how good of strategists they are.
This is a chance for Ezra Hendrickson and his staff to show their ability to adjust strategy and game plan for an opponent they just saw that has not had the opportunity to change and evolve. I am very curious about how they’ll change and adapt, and how the team sets up. For a nerd like me, this is soccer heaven.
Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Orlando City: 2W-3D-2L, 10 GF / 10 GA, 9 pts out of 21
Orlando has had a strange start to the season. After winning their opener and drawing with the Fire, They lost to Cincinnati and beat the LA Galaxy before drawing with Portland and getting trounced by LAFC. One of the causes for this is the loss of their best defender Antonio Carlos with a hamstring injury that will keep him out for 12 to 16 weeks.
I don’t think there’s any point in rushing Xherdan Shaqiri back after he tweaked his hamstring early on in the Dallas match, plus Brian Gutierrez has been good and deserves some more playing time. If Shaq is fine, sure, play him. But if there’s a doubt, any doubt, start Guti.
Meanwhile, Rafa Czichos is still in the health and safety protocol, so they should go with the back four that worked so well against Dallas. This also gives Fede another start as well, so the Fire should be just as difficult to break down as they have been all season.
Keys To The Match
Keep Up the Discipline: Orlando City are dangerous going forward, but their attack is slightly predictable. Get the ball out wide on the left to one of their young studs, Facundo Torres or César Araújo, (Or Joao Moutinho if he pushes up) and then have Pato cut inside and try to get on a cross or a cutback for a shot.
The right side of the Fire’s defense needs to be hyper-aware of this and react accordingly. Sekulic, Omsberg, and especially Gastón Giménez need to understand where the ball is coming from into their quadrant of the field and react to snuff out the attack before it starts, or starts making them attack from Orlando’s right-hand side, keeping Pato pinned to the sideline.
Even then, giving Pato an inch could ruin good defensive work in an instant. Essentially, the Fire needs to keep doing what they’re doing defensively and they’ll be okay, but the consequences of not doing so are more dire than they were last week.
Be Lethal on the Counter: One of the consequences of the way Orlando attack is that they are prone to leave gaps at the back. One of the hardest things for this Fire team to do is counterattack because of the lack of speed on the squad. The success or failure of the Fire this weekend is largely going to be decided based on how they square these two aspects of the game.
In order to win, the Fire are going to need to figure out a way to successfully counterattack. Whether that leaves an extra player up top to create a bigger numbers advantage to negate the speed deficit or play a more dangerous game of luring Orlando further in to give them a bigger head start, the Fire needs to figure out this counterattacking thing. Not just for this weekend, but going forward as well.
How To Watch
Television: Univision, TUDN
This is one of those games that looks good on paper, but you still can’t look past this Orlando team. If the Fire wants to prove that this isn’t a mirage or a hot start, they have to come away with at least a point, if not all three.
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