The Chicago Fire may be on a three-match unbeaten streak, but entering this weekend’s home matchup with Minnesota United, there is a sense of urgency that more wins are needed. While the Fire haven’t lost at home, tomorrow’s match will be a sneakily difficult one, with Adrian Heath’s Loons team playing just about as good as we’ve seen them play over the last few seasons. Meanwhile, Ezra Hendrickson’s Fire still just have one win, and are desperate to get something significant out of the current three-game homestand.
All time: 1-3-1, 6GF, 9GA (4 pts out of 15)
Last Match: April 3rd, 2022 Minnesota United 3-0 Chicago Fire at Allianz Field
1W-3D-1L (6 points)
As mentioned previously, the Fire are unbeaten in three and have only lost once this season, a 1-0 defeat at Philadelphia in week 2. However, the team’s form has not been convincing at all. After blowing two-goals leads in two successive games, the Fire did manage to find a late winner against Inter Miami in Week 4, but looked stale and inefficient in their 0-0 draw with D.C. last time out.
3W-2D-0L (11 points)
The Loons are, to the surprise of just about everyone in MLS, still yet to lose this season. It’s worth mentioning that they have had a relatively easy schedule so far, with opponents such as Vancouver and Colorado, but at the same time, they did defeat FC Dallas on the road on opening day and stunned then-unbeaten St. Louis CITY in their last match, 1-0, thanks to Luis Amarilla penalty.
The Chicago Fire haven’t been bad this season, but they haven’t really been good either. They haven’t been blown out – even when facing Philly on the road – but they have not dominated a game either. It’s unlikely that will change against a resilient Minnesota team that hasn’t lost an away game yet, but at this stage of the season, getting points on the board is the most important thing.
Minnesota are yet to lose and sit near the top of the Western Conference standings, but they certainly haven’t been rolling through the league. The Loons have been dealing with life without Emanuel Reynoso, their key playmaker and most influential player, and have had to adapt the way that they play. Therefore, most games have been tight, and every match this season has been decided by a margin of one goal or less.
The Twin Cities may be one of the closer MLS locations to Chicago, but this is not a fixture with much history. In the seven seasons that Minnesota have been in MLS, this will only be the sixth meeting, and none of the previous ones really hold any particular significance (apart from perhaps one). Both teams will be desperate for the full three points, with Minnesota looking to stay perfect on the road, and Chicago looking to finally catch some momentum.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Injured: Victor Bezerra, Federico Navarro, Jairo Torres
Questionable: Xherdan Shaqiri
The Chicago Fire is definitively a stronger team than they were entering the match with D.C. last week. Xherdan Shaqiri, the team’s highest-paid player and DP, was back in training at the end of the week and will most likely be available to play. Greek U-22 signing Georgios Koutsias will also finally be able to step on the field, having received his U.S. visa, and he has been training throughout the week. Fede Navarro and Jairo Torres are still out, but their returns seem imminent.
The Fire’s goalkeeper and center-backs have been pretty solid this year. Chris Brady has stepped in as the #1 following his promotion from Fire II, and is fresh off his first MLS clean sheet against D.C. last Saturday. He has mostly been reliable and mistake-free, and has proven that he belongs at this level despite his young age and inexperience. Rafa Czichos and Carlos Terán have also continued their strong form in front of Brady. Both have imprinted their names on a scoresheet already this year, and they’ve both picked up man of the match honors.
The full-backs are a little more of a question mark. At the start of the year, it seemed the go-to pair would be Miguel Ángel Navarro, in his fourth season in Chicago, and Arnaud Souquet, in his first after arriving from France. However, Souquet has struggled to meet expectations, and when Navarro went away on international duty, Jonathan Dean stepped up in his absence. Dean has probably earned a starting job at one of the two fullback spots, but it’s unclear who would be dropped for that, and it’s equally likely that Ezra will roll out the more proven duo of Souquet and Navarro.
A primary reason that the Fire haven’t been able to control games is because of the weakness in midfield. The absence of Fede Navarro has hurt more than anyone else, and for whatever reason, Fabian Herbers has been his replacement. The double pivot of Herbers and Gastón Giménez really hasn’t been effective at all, and as Giménez actually did have a pretty solid game against D.C. last week, expect Mauricio Pineda to replace Herbers in the team.
The attack scored six goals in a two-game span against Cincinnati and Miami, but were pretty silent last week. If Shaqiri is reintroduced to the mix, it will be interesting to see how Ezra decides to configure the attack. Brian Gutiérrez has been excellent as the team’s #10, but that has been Shaqiri’s spot ever since he arrived in Chicago, and the coaching staff will have some decisions to make. If Chris Mueller is in form, the Fire will be so much more dangerous going forward as well; he leads the team in goals with two. The Fire’s attacks have mostly been focused down the left, with Chris Mueller driving at defenders and combining with Gutiérrez and the #9.
OUT: Emanuel Reynoso (suspension), Bakaye Dibassy (thigh), Ryen Jiba (knee)
The Loons have more often than not folded into a standard 4-4-2 this season, even if by-principle they want to be playing a 4-2-3-1. It has been enough to get results, and they have quickly figured out how to play without Reynoso, even if they are still sorting that out on the fly. Their #9s are solid, with new signing Sang-Bin Jeong providing an alternative to the more proven Luis Amarilla, both of whom will keep Chris Brady busy.
Sitting deeper in a 4-4-2 on the road, Minnesota will be happy to soak up lots of pressure and attempt to wear the Fire down. Counter attacks will be huge for Adrian Heath’s team, as they have been a key reason that the Loons have a perfect record on the road, and the Fire must be weary of Fragapane on the left wing.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Take over the middle: The ineffectiveness of Fabian Herbers in the double pivot has really limited what the Fire can do in midfield, and with Fede Navarro and Jairo Torres still out for at least another week, it will likely be Mauricio Pineda who has to step up in his place. By packing in their defense, D.C. did a good job of containing Brian Gutiérrez as the 10; if he can find space in the middle, the Fire will create far more chances.
- Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces: The Fire have all the ingredients to be a strong team from set pieces; Shaqiri was often the designated free-kick and corner taker in Europe and with Switzerland, while Gastón Giménez and Brian Gutiérrez have also shown that they have good delivery at times. Rafa Czichos, Carlos Terán, Kacper Przybyłko, and Kei Kamara are also all great targets in the box who are capable of scoring in the air. The Fire need to find ways to capitalize off of these facts.
- Resist counter-attacks: Minnesota’s game plan, as mentioned previously, relies entirely on bunkering and countering. The full backs will have to ensure that they can cope with the pace on the wings to prevent isolating Chris Brady one-on-one
Minnesota’s conservative approach will result in another tight game decided by just a few moments. The Fire’s attack will get frustrated as the Loons sit deep for most of the game, and will be further annoyed when Adrian Heath shifts to a back-five in order to preserve a 0-0 draw late on.
Prediction: Fire 0-0 Minnesota United
Prediction: Fire 1-2 Minnesota United
Minnesota have been impressive this season in their ability to get a positive result, and it was shown last weekend and the weeks before for the Fire that three points are never a guarantee. Although Koutsias has arrived, I don’t expect him to make an immediate impact yet. I do expect some kind of blunder to amount to a Minnesota goal however.
Prediction: Fire 1-2 Minnesota United
The Fire feel like they can play up or play down to anyone’s level at home, but ultimately don’t seem overly anxious to put any away.
Prediction: Fire 1-1 Minnesota United
Prediction: Fire 2-1 Minnesota United
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, April 8, 2023 7:30PM CT
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Forecast: 52° F and cloudy
TV: Free on Apple TV
Radio: TUDN WRTO 1200AM (Spanish)