The Chicago Fire return to Soldier Field to play FC Cincinnati a week after the heartbreaking loss to Philadelphia courtesy of a late goal while the Fire were down a man. FC Cincinnati heads back out on the road after beating the Sounders 1-0 at home last week, managing to hold on to their lead despite also being down to 10 players in the game’s dying minutes.
All time: 3-2-3, 12GF, 10GA, (11 pts out of 24)
Last Match: Oct 1, 2022: Chicago Fire 3 – 2 FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium
FC Cincinnati pulled off a statement win last week off a Sounders team that previously looked pretty unbeatable. They are now one of just 7 undefeated teams in MLS, beating Houston 2-1 in their season- and home opener before playing to a 0-0 draw in Orlando.
The Fire started last week’s match against the Union well, playing out of a 5-3-2 for the first time under Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson. This gave the team defensive strength and allowed the team to get good chances from Philly on counters – arguably, they were outplaying the Union in the first half. Season-opener hero Fabian Herbers started the game in a defensive midfield position – a first for him – but found himself sent off early in the second half after a dangerous tackle got him a yellow – his second of the match.
The shorthanded Fire held firm through the 90th minute when the Union finally were able to break through. Adding insult to injury, striker Kei Kamara – who was effective at getting in behind Philadelphia’s defense and generally creating havoc (as well as space for Przybyłko, the other striker for the Fire) – was also sent off in the dying moments of stoppage time, leaving both players unavailable for this game as the Fire succumbed to a 1-0 loss.
FC Cincinnati’s days as a wooden spoon contender look well and truly behind them. The team now has offensive firepower and look headed for one of the top spots of the east – with the more optimistic of their fans probably thinking that a Supporter’s Shield may not be out of reach; the Fire, meanwhile, hemmed close to an all-too-familiar script – beating expectations and playing with promise and tenacity throughout the majority of the match before losing the game at one of the last possible moments, thereby ensuring that even though they significantly outplayed expectations, the only victory they’d be leaving Chester, PA with would be a moral one (and even that somewhat tarnished).
Still – both Hendrickson and Fire captain Rafael Czichos have talked about making Soldier Field a fortress and even if it’s just been one match – the Fire are undefeated at home. They’ll want to try to make that continue, meanwhile, FC Cincinnati are on a current league-high seven-game regular season unbeaten streak on the road dating back to the middle of last season. Both teams will likely want to start off on their best behavior after having prepared throughout the week for Saturday’s game knowing that at least one of their players would be suspended.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for likely starter GK Roman Calentano of FC Cincinnati – like Chris Brady, he’s from Naperville.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Out: Yuya Kubo
Suspended: Nick Hagglund
FC Cincinnati’s typical formation is sometimes listed as a 5-3-2, but it’s better understood as a 3-4-1-2, as shown above. They rely on their defensive midfielders to win duels in the center portion of the pitch and are quick to commit on the attack. In FCC’s variation, Acosta plays as an attacking midfielder and the two outside players that would nominally be outside backs – likely Barreal and Gaddis – push further up the pitch than the variation Chicago played last week against Philly, often committing fully on the attack.
This helps power their potent offense and is one of the reasons that Cincinnati scored 64 goals last season, good for second place overall in the league. FCC is very fast on transitions and, because they’re quick to commit numbers forward, can generate excellent attacking sequences. Brenner is capable of scoring a quick goal out of nowhere, and the team is also able to generate longer attacking sequences that lead to goals. At the same time, because they push numbers forward, they can leave themselves exposed defensively, and allowed 56 goals against last season – the most out of any playoff-bound team.
With defender Nick Hagglund facing a one-match suspension, Alvas Powell will likely come in and take his place in the starting lineup for this match. Make sure to check out our opposition report for an FC Cincinnati perspective.
Out: Federico Navarro; Jairo Torres
Questionable: Xherdan Shaqiri
Suspended: Fabian Herbers, Kei Kamara
Despite playing well out of a 5-3-2 formation last week, Hendrickson will in all likelihood revert to his traditional 4-2-3-1 formation this week – for the simple reason that the team simply doesn’t have two MLS-proven forwards available with Kamara suspended and Koutsias still awaiting his visa to join the team.
As such, Przybylko should return to the starting lineup, and Gutierrez – an unused sub in the last match – will likely start on the right wing. With Herbers suspended, expect Pineda to pair up with Gimenez as defensive midfielders. Shaqiri is listed as questionable, and trained separately on Friday. Hendrickson previously said he hopes that he can play, and if he is at all able, he will likely start – with four players out, the team needs every starter it can get. If he is unavailable, expect Gutierrez to play in the central attacking midfield spot in his stead and Haile-Selassie to get his first start playing on the right wing.
The Fire, though facing an uphill battle against FC Cincinnati, actually do match up relatively well in some respects: Defense has been one of the Fire’s strengths and Hendrickson has his full defensive corps available, plus Pineda has long done particularly well with the defensive elements of the #6 position. FCC’s center backs have been known to succumb to pressure more than once, and the team has often struggled to build out from the back. With Cincinnati missing starting RB Hagglund, they may be particularly vulnerable in this match.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Play strength to weakness: Cincinnati plays a high-risk, high-reward game, and the Fire’s attacking midfield – Mueller, Gutierrez and either Shaqiri or Haile-Sellassie – has the talent and ability to make life very difficult for FCC’s back line. Good ball movement through the midfield – and some help from Przybylko – could make life very difficult for FCC’s defenders.
- Win D-Mid battles: FC Cincinnati’s game plan relies on winning duels centrally to spark the offense. If the Fire’s double pivot can win battles in this area, they’ll make it very difficult for FCC to follow their gameplan.
- Goals from unlikely places: So far this season, Przybylko has continued the form that won the ire of Fire fans last season. With no other striker options available, offense is going to be hard to come by just as it was for most of the past year. With Pryzybylko likely to go the full 90, it’s key for the team to get goals from somewhere.
For whatever reason, even when they were a perennial wooden spoon contender, FC Cincinnati have always seemed to find a way to beat the Fire in Chicago. However, I’m optimistic that my presence at Soldier Field will deliver a surprising win, with Brian Gutiérrez scoring his first home goal for the first team.
Prediction: Fire 1-0 Cincinnati
Cincy win; Can’t tell ya the score, but I know the Fire are getting another man sent off. “So give me two pints o’ stout, two pints o’ stout. One so I don’t think no more, and the other to face what I’ve in store.”
Prediction: Cincinnati victory
With suspensions and injuries to starters beginning to mount and FCC currently being in great form, I think it’s highly unlikely the Fire come out on top here. With Kei out, I suspect the Fire don’t create much attacking-wise, but I can see Shaqiri notching his first goal from the penalty spot.
Prediction: Fire 1-2 Cincinnati
The Fire have a shot in this game but it’s hard to see where the goals will come from. Kamara truly changed the way the team looks with the ball, getting behind opposition lines and changing the feel of the Fire’s game – but he’s suspended and the Fire don’t frankly have other options available.
Prediction: Fire 1-2 Cincinnati
Prediction: Fire 2-1 Cincinnati
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, March 18, 2023, 7:30PM CT
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Forecast: 26’ expected at kick-off, with 53% humidity, winds gusting up to 27 mph, 88% cloud cover, and a 26% chance of precipitation. Snow is expected through early evening.
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Radio: TUDN WRTO 1200AM (Spanish)