Following their first back-to-back road wins in a decade, the Fire travel to Orlando City looking for the threepeat away from home – something the team last accomplished in 2009 with a 3-2 victory over the now-defunct Chivas USA.
Orlando – currently in 7th place and holding the last “play-off” rather than “play-in” spot – will be looking for its first win in four games and to bolster its position in the standings after having made it into the postseason by the narrowest of margins over the past two years.
The match is part of a full schedule for MLS, while the Gold Cup is also being played at venues around the country.
All time: 7W-6D-5L, 26 GF/19 GA, 27 pts out of 54
Last Match: April 9, 2022: Fire 0-1 Orlando at Exploria Stadium, Orlando Fl.
Record: 7W-7D-5L (28 pts)
Orlando have continued their pattern of being remarkably consistent at being inconsistent in Head Coach Óscar Pareja’s fifth season at the helm. They’ve managed draws against Philadelphia and Seattle in their most recent two matches – home and away, respectively – following a loss at New England the week prior. Prior to that loss on June 17th, the team had been undefeated since May 6th, with three wins and draws in that span. Their most recent victory was over the Rapids at home on June 10th.
Record: 5W-8D-6L (23 pts)
The Fire have two road wins in their first two matches following a much-needed 11-day break earlier in the month, with wins over Portland then Kansas City. Prior to the break, Head Coach Frank Klopas was seldom, if ever, able to roll out his preferred XI between injury and the need for squad rotation, and the team stumbled through the end of its busiest stretch of matches of the season.
At the start of the Fire’s international break, they had 17 points in 17 games and were 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. Since then, they’ve been perfect – and managed to climb to 12th (though tied with 11th place Red Bulls on points, losing out on goal differential), as teams above them have also managed results.
Still, that won’t always be the case, and the team is riding high after their first back-to-back victories of the year in league play (having defeated St. Louis twice in a week, once in U.S. Open Cup play). The team will hope to extend their winning ways – for what it’s worth, of the two times the team had back-to-back victories last year, they were able to extend their run to a third once.
Orlando, meanwhile, will be looking to get a win at home to bolster their position in the standings after a couple of draws. The team has been remarkably inconsistent under Head Coach Óscar Pareja. Last year even as his team won the U.S. Open Cup, the club’s first trophy in its history, the squad struggled to make the playoffs, including last year when they needed a victory over Columbus on decision day to make their ticket to the postseason. They then made a hasty exit, falling to Montréal in the first round.
Still, they made it to the postseason, they have every year under Pareja save his first in 2019, and Orlando have a reputation around the league of being good if unspectacular. The same can’t be said for the Fire, of course, who haven’t been in the postseason since 2017.
However: The teams are separated by five points in the standings, which a Fire victory would narrow to just two. The difference in perception between the two clubs is a chasm, the difference in actual performance? Closer to a matter of inches.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
OUT: Abdi Salim
Orlando typically plays out of the same 4-2-3-1 that the Fire have been of late, but unlike the Fire, they play more out of a low-block, inviting opposition teams to come to them and trusting their attack to punish on counters.
And they do have top-tier attacking talent, starting with #9 Ercan Kara, their DP striker, as well as wingers #17 Facundo Torres and #11 Martin Ojeda, acquired in the offseason for a reported $5 million transfer fee from Godoy Cruz in Argentina, and #10 Mauricio Pereyra, who has been key to orchestrating their attack for the past few seasons.
#1 Pedro Gallese is also a goalkeeper more than capable of putting up highlight-reel quality saves, and yet, despite talent that’s clearly capable of changing games at both ends of the pitch, they haven’t been able to take advantage of it on a consistent basis. And yet – the results haven’t flowed. The Lions will come out looking like, well, lions on offense one match and then come out like pedestrians disenchanted with a crosswalk the next, and the results have mirrored that.
The team has been, well, Floridian in how bizarre its results have been as a result. You might think that Kara, one of the more talented strikers in the league in the prime of his prime at age 27, would be the team’s leading scorer, but you’d be wrong – that honor falls to striker #13 Duncan McGuire, the team’s first pick in last year’s MLS SuperDraft, who leads the team with six goals in just 561 minutes, equaling 0.96 goals/90 in the league – just behind league-leader Giorgios Giakoumakis, that is, if McGuire had played enough minutes to be counted in the stats.
And yet – he isn’t Orlando’s preferred starter at striker, partly because his expected goals come in at 0.41 per 90 minutes, a far more pedestrian rate – meaning he’s scored more than twice as often as could be expected.
Hey, it’s Florida.
Out: Javier Casas Jr., Chris Mueller, Federico Navarro
Plus ça change. When Klopas took over as head coach midway through the season, he spoke of the need to get Brian Gutiérrez – who had the best player in the #10 central attacking midfield role – and Xherdan Shaqiri – who had been starting in the role under previous head coach Ezra Hendrickson – on the field and playing well together at the same time. Getting the pair – one of the Fire’s most promising young players, now in full bloom, and their most heralded star, with a pedigree including a World Cup hat trick – on the pitch in productive places at the same time was a confounding issue under Hendrickson, and the issue has once again
For a few matches, the issue was solved by switching the team out of a 4-2-3-1 formation in favor of paying three center backs, two wing backs that would play more advanced, two defensive midfielders, and two attacking midfielders – both playing a sort of “dual #10” role – behind one central striker.
The formation worked – for a game, then the team came crashing back to earth, though it’s worth noting that injuries and a severely congested schedule resulted in Klopas having very limited time to practice formations and tactics and necessitated significant squad rotation match-to-match, as sheer physical demands outweighed individual performances.
Still, results didn’t flow, and after the welcome – and needed – 11-day international break, the team reverted to playing out of a 4-2-3-1, that, while having some subtle changes to how former head coach Ezra Hendrickson played the team, was clearly of a similar lineage.
The results have been clear, with the team winning back-to-back road matches for the first time in a decade and their first back-to-back games in league competition this season.
And yet. Due to international duties, Shaqiri wasn’t available against Portland and started on the bench in Kansas City, meaning Klopas hasn’t had to confront the problem of having both Shaqiri and Gutiérrez on the pitch at the same time.
With Shaq unavailable, Gutiérrez notched two assists starting as the 10 against Portland and looked good against Kansas City; Fabian Herbers, starting on the wing, had two goals in those games. When Shaqiri did come off the bench, Herbers was clearly gassed, and so Shaqiri took Gutiérrez’s spot on the pitch, and Guti moved to the wing.
So Klopas faces a choice: Does he A) Keep Shaqiri on the bench as a kind of “super sub,” and keep the players who had two points a piece last week in their starting roles, B) Go back to a formation with dual #10s, or possibly like the 3-5-2-1 we saw previously or C) Revert to a 4-2-3-1 that had fans frustrated with Hendrickson’s insistence on playing Guti out of his best position?
Your guess is as good as anyone’s, but the smart money is on a well-rested Shaqiri starting. Unfortunately for the team, Federico Navarro is out with a leg injury, but the upshot is that he can retain a spot in the starting XI while allowing Klopas to roll a 4-2-3-1 with Guti taking the spot on the wing, which might just be the simplest option even if it’s somewhat unsatisfying.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Channel your shooting machine: This is an homage to our Creative Editor, Jiggly Carollo, who wanted the Fire to sign Machino Shuto from Japan – something that will not be happening, at least not yet – but it’s also serious: The Fire are dead-last at shots taken and shots on target in the league, and yet they’re above average at turning shots on target into goals. That suggests that they’re waiting for perfect opportunities instead of taking the chances in front of them, and they need to fix that.
- Make Klopas’s Choice Easier: Shaqiri has just one goal this season and likely feels pressure to play the man who remains, for the time being, the league’s highest-paid player. Shaqiri has had some decent looks on net and made some creative passes lately, but a strong performance from him helps lift all boats for the Fire.
- Be road warriors: As far back as anyone cares to remember, the Fire have not been a great team on the road, and yet the Fire now have more wins away than they do at home. The Fire – perfect in Florida this year, having bested Inter Miami – should embrace whatever mental change has allowed them to perform this well on the road and go into Exploria Stadium expecting that they can walk away with three points.
Tough place to play once again, but things seem to be going Frank Klopas’ way at the moment. As unlikely as it seems, Shaqiri and Gutiérrez will propel the Fire to a third successive win.
Prediction: Orlando 0-2 Fire
“Well, it’s a sharp shock/To your soft side/Summer moon/Catch your shuteye“ Not to come out preaching DOOM while the team’s been on a roll, but Orlando was putting up performances against some of the best teams in the league for the past couple weeks. And while it would be really cool to do something that hasn’t been done since my 10th birthday, to say we have a chance to win here is blatant copium. It was a fleeting moment of grace. Now it’s time for reality to come back.
Prediction: Orlando 3-1 Fire
Prediction: Orlando 1-3 Fire
The 1-0 away win three-peat is alive and well.
Prediction: Orlando 0-1 Fire
I’m ready to be hurt again. But in all seriousness – the Fire, if they play their game, can get a result in Orlando. It’s that simple.
Prediction: Orlando 1-2 Fire
Prediction: Orlando 1-3 Fire
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, July 1, 6:30 PM CT
Location: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fl.
Forecast: 86’F expected at kick off, with 54% humidity, winds ENE at 13mph, 4% cloud cover and 0% chance of precipitation
TV: Apple TV – Free
Radio: wlsam.com (English), TUDN 1200 AM (Spanish)