Fresh off a win in Austin in a midweek U.S. Open Cup Match, the Fire’s road trip continues, this time taking the team to Foxborough, Massachusetts, where they take on Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution.
The game comes as the Revs look to return to winning ways, having fallen down to earth (and in the standings) after a hot start early in the year, and the Fire will be looking for their first away win in MLS league play since Frank Klopas took the reins again.
The Fire are playing their seventh game in 21 days, while the Revolution’s schedule (and early U.S. Open Cup exit) means they have played just four matches over the same span.
All time: 27W-18D-24L, 100GF, 93GA, (99 pts out of 207)
Last Match: October 9, 2022: Chicago Fire 1-1 New England Revolution at SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, Ill.
New England Revolution
Record: 7W-3D-3L (19 pts)
New England lost to the Philadelphia Union in Chester, Pa., 3-0 in their most recent match last Saturday. It was the third loss in a row across all competitions for the Revs, who lost away to Inter Miami by a score of 2-1 the week prior and were booted out of the U.S. Open Cup competition in the Round of 32 on May 9 by the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in one of the only Cupsets of the year.
Their most recent victory was a 2-0 win in Toronto on May 6.
Record: 3W-6D-4L (15pts)
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.
It’s the 70th meeting in MLS play between the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire, two teams that have much in common besides their history together on the pitch. Both are early MLS teams that have kept their original names while updating their logos; both have had limited success in the league despite their lengthy histories: The Fire have won MLS Cup a single time, while the Revolution have yet to hoist the trophy despite five trips to the final. Both teams play in cavernous stadiums they share with an NFL team and both are coached by men who have been around the league since its inception.
The Revolution, like the Fire, are one of the only teams in the league to remain undefeated at home in MLS play, unlike the Fire. However, their home record isn’t perfect, having exited the U.S. Open Cup due to a loss in Foxborough.
Unlike the Fire, however, the Revolution are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings and at one point looked like they might be returning to the form they had in 2021 when they racked up an all-time league record 73 points en route to the Supporters’ Shield. Although injuries have caught up to New England and slowed them from that pace, they remain nine points ahead of the Fire with 13 games played.
Although the Fire have only one more loss than the Revolution, they have four fewer wins, accounting for the gulf in the standings between the two sides. While the Fire have settled for a single point six times this year, the Revolution have far more often secured three points and a win.
Fresh off working his magic on the Fire’s U.S. Open Cup match, Frank Klopas will be looking for his squad to take confidence from the victory on Wednesday into Gillette Stadium and get a win to help the Fire start filling in the distance between the two teams in the standings. If he’s able to do so, it’ll be the first time since that the Fire will have back-to-back victories on road across all competitions since 2017, when the team beat St. Louis FC in open cup play then discord a 2-1 victory over the Revs three days later.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
New England Revolution
Out: Dylan Borrero, Gustavo Bou, Brandon Bye, Nacho Gil, Henry Kessler, Maciel, Tommy McNamara
A quote often (though quite possibly mistakenly) attributed to the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is that “truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis but in an emergent synthesis.” Understanding happens from reconciling diametrically opposed ideas.
Why is this relevant to how Bruce Arena will line up 11 guys to kick a ball around on Saturday? Because in many ways, his approach is the opposite to Austin FC Head Coach Josh Wolff’s that we saw on Wednesday. Wolff wants his team to keep possession of the ball and play a tactically high-minded system, methodically advancing the ball and trying to create positional or qualitative overloads. It’s heavily derived from the system that Pep Guardiola uses, which is complicated enough that he actually has physical lines marked out on a training pitch to make it comprehensible to some of the best players in the world.
Call that the thesis. The antithesis, then, is how Bruce Arena plays. He’s played his team in a number of different shapes, though so far this season, the 4-2-3-1 seems to be his favorite option. Unlike Wolff, he doesn’t emphasize pre-planned off-ball movements, trying to create spaces or overloads on the pitch.
However, that isn’t to say that his teams are chaotic, or that he doesn’t have his team playing with a discernible identity, because he does: Without the ball, the Revs will press high to try to win the ball back in advantageous parts of the pitch. In attack, his team doesn’t want to maintain possession for long periods, but instead, complete quick, vertical passes up the pitch to try having a few high-value passes rather than maintaining possession for the sake of possession. They will try to kill you on counters, and if they can’t, they will try to kill you quickly.
The engine behind the New England’s attack has been Designated Player (DP) #10 Carles Gil, who has been one of, if not the, best #10s since he joined the league in 2019. He will likely start and isn’t listed on the injury report, but he did get an apparent non-contact injury last week, forcing him to leave after just 35 minutes.
His injury is just the latest in a string that have plagued the Revolution in recent weeks. The Revs two best strikers on the roster are DPs Gustavo Bou and #9 Giacomo Vrioni. Bou is out with injury, and Vrioni is himself working his way back to full minutes after being hurt. If Arena thinks he’s ready to go, Vrioni will likely get the start; if not, #17 Bobby Wood, a former US Men’s National Team player, seems to be Arena’s preferred choice.
Next to Carles Gil, U-22 signing Dylan Borrero was having a breakout season in New England, but a torn ACL sidelined him for the rest of the year. Losing Borrero has changed the shape and style of New England’s attack significantly, and the Revs haven’t won a match since his injury.
Injury woes continue in the back line: Brandon Bye, who has played every minute of the Revs season in MLS so far, is out with an injury, leaving #16 Joshua Bolma as the likely starter. Bolma has seen limited minutes in the Open Cup against lower division opponents played with the Rev’s MLS Next Pro team, but the 21-year-old is largely untested at the MLS level, which may present an opportunity for Klopas and the Fire attack.
Out: Jonathan Dean, Carlos Terán, Chris Mueller
Suspended: Fabian Herbers, Federico Navarro
We may have all been given a glimpse of the future on Wednesday. Though they were nominally lined up in a 4-2-3-1 to start, in practice, it often felt like a 3-4-3, with Pineda, Czichos, and Souquet in the back line, Miguel Ángel Navarro and Maren Haile-Selassie playing as wingbacks. Gastón Giménez and Federico Navarro remained as a double pivot, and Brian Gutiérrez and Xherdan Shaqiri essentially played as two wide #10s in support of Kei Kamara.
Klopas said that he believed that fans were owed having both Gutiérrez and Shaqiri on the pitch at the same time, and he’s making it clear that he sees both Shaq and Guti as playmakers rather than traditional wingers.
It worked well (though Kamara didn’t look like he was at 100%), and I suspect we’ll see more of it. It wouldn’t at all be surprising to see the team revert to a traditional 4-2-3-1 (at least titularly) for the match, but the 3-4-3 has distinct advantages, particularly against a team that plays like the Revs: Having two wide #10s helps exploit the full width of the pitch, and particularly if Kamara isn’t 90 minutes fit, the idea of having Kacper Przybyłko try to drag New England’s center backs out of position, almost as a false 9, to create space for Shaq and Guti’s creativity is alluring.
Even if the lineup graphic shows a 4-2-3-1, watch the players and see if the Fire end up taking a shape like above, at least in phases of the game. It involves the same players the Fire would likely be using, at least this match, in a 4-2-3-1, so the shape can morph if need be. (What happens when injured players Carlos Terán and Chris Mueller, who have played well enough to lay claim to minutes, are healthy is a separate matter.)
Unfortunately, whatever Klopas’s plans are for Saturday, they won’t include Federico Navarro – whose play has been excellent of late – or Fabian Herbers, whose speed and ability to chase down balls has made him a good option off the bench – as both are suspended.
Not long ago, the idea of trusting Jairo Torres to be half of the double pivot – as he’ll likely be on Saturday with Fede out – would have been fear-inducing but his improved play of late suggests that maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to see flashes of the player that the Fire spent millions to acquire last year. He’ll likely play alongside Gastón Giménez, though neither are as defensively minded as Fede Navarro. Past that, most of the players are likely to be the same shape as we saw on Wednesday, though Chris Brady will get the nod over Spencer Richey in net.
The formation changes the pressure for some of the Fire players, particularly the back line, but it gives the FIre a different dimension and brings out the roster’s talent in new ways.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Remember St. Louis: Though the styles are somewhat different, both St. Louis and New England like to play a high press to win the ball in key areas and play vertically when they do have the ball. A high press is often fairly narrow, and there’s normally space behind the lines. The Fire’s results against St. Louis came because the Fire were able to play wider, take advantage of open space behind the lines, and having good, accurate passes through the midfield that broke down the press. The Fire can find joy if they execute that same plan against New England.
- Remember – we’ve got 2 DPs: Lost in most of the discussion about whether Shaqiri was meeting expectations was the fact that the Fire actually have a second designated player. Injury issues limited Jairo Torres for his first year with the team, but he’s been slowly earning minutes and playing better and better. Coming on as a sub, he hit the woodwork and set up the Shaqiri shots that led to the Fire’s second goal. With a tired Fire squad, getting contributions like that from Torres – and link up play with Shaqiri – is critical
- Play hard, play smart: The Fire have been averaging 2.85 yellow cards per game – top in the league and well above the average of 2.12, and they’re missing two players in an incredibly busy stretch of matches as a result. They’re also tied for the league lead with 3 red cards just 13 games into their season. The FIre need to keep up the passion but keep it on the right side of the law, since they can’t expect many points if they go down a man midway through the first half as they did last Saturday.
New England are quite good, and their midfield will probably control the game against a Fede Navarro-less Fire. Esmir Bajraktarevic will score, and the Fire will come up just short despite a resilient effort.
Prediction: New England 3-2 Fire
While the Fire have a good vibe about them, they just finished up a game where they were the hardest working team out there. Not to mention the travel from Austin, back to Chicago, then onwards to Foxborough. And there, they’ll be up against a Revs team that might be a bit struggling, but it’s still a top squad (even without Gil). As a whole, this road trip will be rough, but I think they’ll get points out of it. Just not here.
Prediction: New England 2-1 Fire
Shaq’s on Fire
Prediction: New England 1-2 Fire
New England have been struggling a bit as of recent, however wins on the road are a rarity for the Fire (even though we just got one), and this New England squad is very talented. With the form the Fire are in though, I believe they’ll put up a good fight and earn a point.
Prediction: New England 1-1 Fire
Klopas is still giving me reason for optimism and it’s heart over head watching this Fire team at the moment. That, plus the fact that we’re seeing increasing activation of parts of the roster that we’d almost forgotten suggests that the Fire can get the result they need in New England.
Prediction: New England 1-2 Fire
Ugh… we aren’t gonna win, but 3-2 Fire win.
Prediction: New England 2-3 Fire
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, May 27, 2023, 6:30 PM CT
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Ma.
Forecast: 70’F expected at kick off, with 37% humidity, winds S at 8mph and 5% cloud cover and no chance of precipitation
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass
Radio: wlasam.com (English), TUDN 1200 AM (Spanish)