Tonight, the Chicago Fire will take to the Soldier Field pitch for their biggest game of the season. They will face off against playoff rival Inter Miami, who have surged into postseason contention thanks to a late push led by new arrivals Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Facundo Farías, Diego Gómez, and, of course, the greatest of all time, Lionel Messi. More than 60,000 tickets have been sold for the game, which is officially a sellout.
The implications of this game are huge. For the Fire, a win should put them above the playoff line come Thursday (depending on other results around the league), and firmly launch them one massive step closer to clinching. Chicago has been absent from the MLS playoffs every season since 2017, so it is paramount that qualification is achieved.
Miami need to win, too, but their situation is much more desperate. In truth, they are extremely fortunate to still be in the race at this point, as an expanded postseason field combined with their summer shopping spree have kept them alive by the skin of their teeth. They will need to win all of their remaining games to ensure that they clinch, which seems unlikely, but they’ll have to see Chicago as an opportunity to get three points.
Will Lionel Messi play?
Miami will be without a few players of their own. Their star, Lionel Messi, is officially questionable, but according to numerous reports, he will not play (scar tissue). The reports out of both Miami and Argentina that he will skip tonight’s game did not stop Head Coach “Tata” Martino from saying that he is a game-time decision, but the Chicago Fire has already announced that ticket-holders for the game will receive a coupon towards future matches regardless of whether Messi plays. His longtime Barcelona teammate, Jordi Alba, is also questionable with a fatigue issue. Center forward Leonardo Campana (hamstring) did not make the trip, which will be another big blow for Miami, who will be missing Brazilian DP midfielder Gregore (foot). Miami will also be without Ian Frey (left ACL), Corentin Jean (left ACL), Franco Negri (right ACL), Diego Gómez (hamstring), and Tomás Avilés (suspension).
Who’s available for the Fire?
The Fire will be without a few players who could be valuable against the talented team of Miami. Argentine midfielder Federico Navarro has been ruled out as he continues his recovery (left lower leg), and starting center back, Mauricio Pineda, who has been one of the Fire’s best players this season, is also not fit to play (right lower leg). Chris Mueller (right upper leg) is still out for the rest of 2023, and Victor Bezerra (right lower leg) will also be unavailable. Jairo Torres (right upper leg) is listed as questionable following a knock he sustained early in the second half of the Fire’s most recent match at the New York Red Bulls.
Brian Gutiérrez and Rafa Czichos, who were not deemed fit enough to start against Red Bulls at the weekend, are considered “ready to go” for the Miami game by Head Coach Frank Klopas. The return of Gutiérrez and Czichos will be big boosts, given that they are the Fire’s most important and efficient attacking and defensive players, respectively. Expect “Guti” to start off of the left side, with hungry Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri likely to be the #10 in the middle of the attacking quartet.
How to watch the game
For those unable to make it to Soldier Field, the game will be broadcast globally on Apple TV in English and Spanish with the MLS Season Pass. Jake Zivin will be on the call, with Taylor Twellman on color commentary. It will also be aired on 890 WLS-AM radio (Max Thoma and Dasan Robinson) and TUDN 1200 AM (Omar Ramos and Raquel Ortiz).
It will be a memorable night on the Lakefront for those who attend, regardless if the main attraction does or does not take the field. There will be a halftime performance by rapper Lil Durk, tens of thousands of glowing wristbands for a light display in the bowl of the stadium, and other festivities. Even without Messi, fans will still be treated to watching homegrown rising stars Brian Gutiérrez and Chris Brady, decorated Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, and legendary MLS forward Kei Kamara.