Despite the fall off over the last 3 weeks, overall the Fire have overachieved my expectations for the opening two months of the season. In the season preview episode of The Hot Cast, I said that if the Fire scored 8 points in their first 10 games, they would be set to capitalize on the incoming Jairo Torres signing by getting hot at the right time and going on a run in May and June. Instead, they have 10 points and have a second player coming in who could be just as impactful as Torres in Chris Meuller.
While I’m sure no one is happy with the last 3 weeks, the Fire are still on schedule to make the playoffs. If they want it to stay that way, now is the time to turn it on. All the pieces are in place. It’s time for a new beginning to the 2022 season.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs FC Cincinnati: 2W-2D-2L, 8 GF / 6 GA, 8 pts out of 12
Chicago Fire home MLS record vs FC Cincinnati: 1W-0D-2L, 4 GF / 3 GA, 3 pts out of 9
Cincinnati are coming off a game in which they got dumpstered by the New England Revolution 5-1 in the US Open Cup. However, they played almost no starters, and the Revs played everybody. So it’s best to ignore it. What we shouldn’t ignore is their league form. They’ve won 3 in a row dating back to their 2-1 win in Toronto before winning the return fixture 2-0 and then beating MNUFC 1-0. Before that, they were on a 4 game winless streak in the league; with losses to LAFC, Montreal, and Charlotte and a draw with Atlanta United. Cincinnati is a pretty streaky team, and the Fire are looking to end their good fortune this weekend.
We don’t know the status of Kacper Pryzbylko, but in Hendrickson’s media availability, he didn’t sound too hopeful that we’d see his return. So I went with rookie Jhan Duran up top. Despite Chinonso Offor scoring in Atlanta, I think Duran offers more dynamic options in the attack. He’s not afraid to take defenders on 1v1 and is willing to shoot from distance. Both of those traits are things the Fire don’t really do all that much, and Duran could help them in that regard.
As for Jairo Torres, it’s possible he’s ready to go, but as of Wednesday, he was not yet training with the team, so if he does play, it will be off the bench. You still start Gutierrez instead of anyone else— he’s your 4th best-attacking midfielder after all, He should be playing in the middle, but part of the cost of Shaqiri is that he must be your number 10,so expect Guti to cut inside a lot and Shaq to float to the sideline.
Everywhere else is pretty much the same. Czichos is back so he comes in, and I’ve been more impressed with Fede over Pineda of late, so he gets the start at the 6 if Gimenez is healthy enough to re-enter the lineup at the 8.
Keys To The Match
Be Disruptive: When things were going well, the Fire were one of the best teams at disrupting opposing offenses. They were one of the best in Opposing possession under 5 seconds, meaning that teams were unable to string passes together against the team, despite the Fire not really being a pressing team.
The Fire have to get back to not allowing teams to get into a rhythm by allowing sustained possession. They need to go back to stepping in passing lanes and reading runners coming in from deep— the kinds of things they were so successful at the first 6 weeks of the season. If they do that, they shouldn’t have much trouble stopping Cincinnati’s attack.
Use the Extra Space Effectively: When Chris Meuller came on in thehe 2nd half, he changed the season for the Fire. Because he’s a true winger, he gives the Fire detention they haven't had all season: He can go vertical both on the ball and off it. He gets into spaces the Fire could only dream of getting into before he showed up, and it’s opened up the attack for everyone else as a consequence.
Now it’s up to the others to use that space to create chances. The Fire need to move the ball quicker in the final third to exploit the gaps in the back line. They need to time their runs better to not be offside. They need to shoot more frequently to force some rebounds and the like, and they need to cross more balls and make more back post runs. GIf they can get in good positions, the goals will come. Chinonso Offor proved that last week.
How To Watch
Streaming: CF97 Live/ESPN+
If the Fire can capitalize on Meuller and finish their scoring chances, they’ll win easily. 3-1 Fire.