The Fire’s packed schedule continues as they face Toronto FC in the second match of a three-game road swing. Coming off of a disappointing draw against New England – one that saw the team concede three times while ahead, including giving up the tying goal late – the match presents an excellent opportunity for the Fire to pick up their third road win (and second in league play) of the year.
Toronto will hope that their win over D.C. United at BMO Place on Saturday marked the start of a trend that finally puts some of their troubles to rest as the team starts to claw its way back from the basement of the Eastern Conference standings.
The match is the first time that Frank Klopas will face off against his former coach from the 1998 Fire team, Bob Bradley, as a head coach himself.
All time: 10W-11D-15L, 56 GF/ 64 GA, 41 pts out of 108
Last Match: May 28, 2022: Toronto FC 3-2 Chicago Fire at BMO Field, Toronto, Ont.
Record: 3W-7D-5L (16 pts)
Toronto came into the season with lofty expectations from its fanbase, with some pundits even listing them as a dark horse candidate for the Supporter’s Shield, but the performance on the pitch had fallen far short of Toronto FC had been winless in the month of May until their 2-1 victory over D.C. United last Saturday and managed just one win in April and one in March. The team went into the season with lofty expectations and had fallen far sort of them, and prior to finding the back of the net against D.C., the team had gone over 400 minutes without a goal.
3W-7D-4L (16 pts)
The Fire continued their U.S. Open Cup run on Wednesday with a victory over Austin FC in the first-ever competitive meeting between the two teams. In their most recent league game, the Fire played Atlanta to a 3-3 draw at Soldier Field, salvaging a point in a match in which they played down a man for half the game.
The Fire and Toronto FC enter the match with the same number of points, but that’s where the similarities end between the two clubs. Toronto’s season came with the weight of expectations, as the team dug itself into a hole in the standings in the first half of 2022 as they awaited the arrival of Lorenzo Insigne in the summer transfer window, and he was unable to turn their fortunes around.
This year, the expectation was that the DPs imported from Italy – Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne – would native son Jonathan Osorio in returning the club to its glory days. That hasn’t happened – and how.
The team just narrowly pried itself off of the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with a win last Saturday, and the new DPs have middling in their play, at best, for most of their time in Toronto. Toronto was booted from the Canadian Championship – almost certainly their only realistic shot at a trophy this season – in a 2-1 loss to Montréal, but not before things got ugly, as visiting Toronto supporters were filmed instigating a violent altercation with Montréal fans, resulting in the first-ever permanent bans issued by the team. After the final whistle, Toronto midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye had to be restrained on the pitch by teammates after hearing abusive comments from visiting supporters in the losing effort.
By reports, things have been an absolute horror show in the Toronto locker room: Bernardeschi and Insigne seem to be feuding between themselves – with the former demanding a new contract and to be paid equally to the latter (a request that Toronto’s front office rebuffed) – and Insigne apparently upset that the salary figure released by the Players Association doesn’t include his substantial marketing deal.
Both Italians, however, are also in a feud with Bob Bradley, with Bernardeschi going as far as to more or less publicly demand the former Fire and USMNT coach’s ouster – something that resulted in being barred from the matchday squad in their most recent game against D.C. United. Prior to that match – when Insigne played the full 90 minutes – Insigne was out with an injury that Toronto fans speculated was faked – either by the player or by the club, hiding the fact he was refusing to play.
Adding salt to the injury, or insult to the wound, or whatever mixed metaphor you choose are reports that players feel unable to speak in the locker room because they believe that anything said in earshot of midfielder Michael Bradley – Bob’s son – will end up making it back to the coach.
It’s Game of Thrones up in Hogstown – sure, it may lack the special effects budget, and casting may have happened on Transfermarkt, but it’s almost certainly headed for the same disappointing ending.
The Fire, meanwhile, may have as many points in one fewer game but are enjoying a successful run in the U.S. Open Cup, largely on the back of a reinvigorated Shaqiri, who has finally been making the kinds of plays in a Fire jersey that fans saw from him in Swiss National Team, Liverpool and Stoke City shirts.
By all accounts, Frank Klopas’s locker room is coherent and united, and even if the results have all too often been disappointing, the play along the way largely hasn’t, and the team has nothing like the personality clashes going on in Toronto.
The Fire faithful can reasonably be disappointed with having to settle for a single point again, but Klopas heavily rotated the roster for the match – it was arguably a B-team with a few exceptions, including, notably, the rapidly de-aging Shaqiri and it was just the second time this year that the Fire got a point on the road.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Out: Michael Bradley, Alonso Coello, Adama Diomande, Deandre Kerr, Shane O’Neil, Jonathan Osorio, Victor Vázquez
Questionable: Sigurd Rosted, Brandon Servania
It’s always a challenge predicting the starting lineup of a team that – ultimately – you’re not that familiar with, regardless of how many games of theirs you watch or what you see. Adding to those issues is the fact the number of players unavailable to play for Toronto are nearing the number of ones that are, and there are open questions about whether Bernardeschi will be allowed to play.
Playing both (quasi-feuding) DPs at the same time may be adding gasoline to an existing coal fire, but the fact is, Bradley (senior) has to know he’s on thin ice, and it’s likely that he will find himself with a lot more time on his hands if he doesn’t find a way to get results with both Bernardeschi and Insigne in the lineup at the same time.
Regardless of who’s available, Bob Bradley has shown a clear preference for playing out of a 4-3-3 in his time at LAFC and, more recently, Toronto, when he has anything resembling the pieces, and he’s got the pieces (although apparently whether he’s willing to let some of the pieces stay in the press box is another question entirely)
Going out on a bit of a limb, Bradley will have to let #10 Bernardeschi back on the pitch at some point, and why not a midweek game? If he’s available, he’ll start at the right wing in the attack, with #24 Insigne on the left and former Fire player #9 C.J. Sapong starting at striker.
Climbing further on a limb, he’ll continue to roll most of the remaining XI that notched the team their first win in a month. Former Fire player Sean Johnson has started every game; he’ll do so again. Local product (though out of his homegrown years) #22 Richie Laryea has played every game but one and will start at right back, and #2 Matt Hedges will get his third start assuming Shane O’Neil remains out with an injury. At the left, #28 Raoul Petretta had been injured, played 90 minutes against Austin a week ago, and was on the bench last game – but if he’s available, he’ll play, and he’s likely to be back.
With Bradley (the younger) injured, the midfield will likely consist of #7 Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, #14 Mark Anthony-Kaye (who was listed as questionable at Saturday but did start) and #47 Kosi Thompson, as the normal player at that position, #23 Brandon Servania, left in the 19’ on Saturday with an injury and is listed as questionable.
Out: Jonathan Dean, Chris Mueller, Carlos Terán, Mauricio Pineda
Questionable: Victor Bezerra, Sergio Oregel Jr., Justin Reynolds
One thing happened for the first time on Saturday: The Fire officially played out of a 3-4-3. Something else happened for just the second this season on time Saturday in league play: The Fire rolled out a lineup that rested a number of healthy key starters.
The smart money is that neither of those trends will continue on Wednesday: 4-2-3-1 formation works well to counter Toronto’s likely 4-3-3, and Klopas’ side knows it well, having been the dominant formation under Ezra Hendrickson over the past season-and-a-half.
Mauricio Pineda and Carlos Terán aren’t going to be available in the back line, so expect Wyatt Omsberg to start at center back next to Rafael Czichos. The two played well and showed chemistry together prior to Omsberg’s season-ending injury last year, and they are likely ready and able to counter Toronto’s attack. Alongside them, expect Miguel Ángel Navarro and Arnaud Soquet to return to their normal starting spots.
In the midfield, the rested Federico Navarro will likely return to the starting lineup, freshly rested from a one-match trip to Club Red, next to Gastón Giménez in the double pivot.
In the attack, Kei Kamara will likely return to start at striker ahead of a midfield trio of Brian Gutiérrez, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Maren Haile-Selassie, although it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Fabian Herbers started, rested after a one-match suspension, taking the place of the young Swiss winger.
Fire Keys to Victory
- It’s good to play together: Toronto have spent an inordinate amount on talent, including a deal that now looks like it was structured primarily to give Insigne the title of highest-paid in the league in his first season, but they haven’t played consistently as a team. The Fire, increasingly, have, and there’s no underrating team cohesion. Playing more as a cohesive unit than Toronto does wonders for the Fire’s chances.
- Count to XI: A continual issue for the Fire this year has been leaving players unmarked opposing set pieces. They can’t do that against a team with Bernardeschi and Insigne in the lineup. Neither has played particularly well, but both will gladly score a goal off a gift.
- Revenge is a dish served in cold climates: The Fire went to Toronto last year in the midst of a winless streak that had stretched to 10 games across all competitions, and they absolutely dominated the hosts in every way except the only one that matters, ending up losing the game 3-2. The Fire should remember how they played, and get the result they all but earned last time.
Toronto’s locker room is a mess, and the Fire’s is anything but. Chicago takes a rare road win led by Shaqiri and Koutsias.
Prediction: Toronto 1-3 Fire
As much as I would love to trash on Toronto sports as a whole (HAHAHAHAHA MAPLE LEAFS HAHAHAHAHA), they are on the precipice of something. There was a beautiful moment after the last game where Insigne flipped off a fan that everyone hates. I have no clue what that’s going to do for the team’s mentality, and I think it’s 50/50 whether they will continue to fall apart or if that one moment will turn the entire season around. I think the others are leaning more toward that collapse prediction, so I am only here to deliver the funniest possible ending in which the entire team flips off that one specific fan in unison.
Prediction: Toronto 5-3 Fire
No reason, just a feeling.
Prediction: Toronto 1-2 Fire
Toronto are in shambles, and the Fire, in all likelihood, will capitalize on this and grab +3 points.
Prediction: Toronto 1-2 Fire
They got a win but it’s still the same drama in Toronto. The Fire played for a win and almost would have had it with a B+ team (with, admittedly, some A-list players) on Saturday, and they can get a result with an A- team against a worse opponent on Wednesday.
Prediction: Toronto 1-3 Fire
Prediction: Toronto 0-4 Fire
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Wednesday, May 31, 2023, 6:30 PM CT
Location: BMO Field, Toronto, Ont.
Forecast: 74°F expected at kick off, with 48% humidity, winds E at 7 mph, 1% cloud cover, and no chance of precipitation
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass
Radio: wlasam.com (English), TUDN 1200 AM (Spanish)