For the second time in less than a week, the Chicago Fire are gearing up to take on a regional rival in MLS expansion team St. Louis CITY. While the Fire have had a frustrating start to the season and currently sit 14th place in the East, St. Louis has exceeded all expectations, and after starting the season with five wins on the bounce, they now sit in 2nd place with a game in hand. Despite defeating CITY 2-1 in the Open Cup on Tuesday, it will be another difficult match for the Fire and interim head coach Frank Klopas. We spoke with Justin Horneker of St. Louis Magazine to further preview tomorrow’s opponent.
2023 has been St. Louis’ inaugural season in the league. How has their year gone so far?
Coming into the season, expectations were that the team would be decent, better than most expected but not world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination. Starting the season on such a hot streak may have inflated those expectations a bit, but CITY looks like a playoff team in a relatively weak conference. The wildcard for St. Louis will be in how they use their third DP slot this summer, and if they can find a secondary scoring option if Klauss isn’t on the pitch.
Which players have stood out for St. Louis this season, and who could be a difference-maker on Saturday?
Outside of St. Louis’ DPs – Klauss and Edu Löwen – the supporting cast has been surprisingly capable. 18-year-old midfielder Miggy Pérez has been growing into the starting lineup, and playing next to a rejuvenated Indiana Vassilev has helped in his ability to play without a fear of making mistakes. Njabulo Blom has had some setbacks with injury and illness since arriving from South Africa but he should be able to make an outsized impact on Saturday as well. St. Louis’ problems lately have not come from the midfield but the true difference make will be in whether Célio, Gioacchini, or AZ Jackson can take a real step in MLS play and finish chances that they create themselves.
St. Louis visited Chicago earlier this week for a U.S. Open Cup match, which they lost 2-1. How different will the team look at the weekend, and how will they approach the second match of the doubleheader?
The biggest difference will be in goal, Captain Roman Bürki will be back in net and he is also a big play driver with his ability to distribute vertically. Bradley Carnell has never repeated a lineup this season and Saturday will be no different, I’d expect Gioacchini to start up top and he’ll be used as the tip of the press, which will have to be more urgent than it was on Tuesday.
There is a lot of soccer history between Chicago and St. Louis dating back over a century. What does this matchup mean for the folks down in Missouri?
It’s a big game, it’s no secret that St. Louis and Chicago have a deep rivalry history, even if it’s just getting started in MLS. Losing in the Open Cup on Tuesday was the first real disappointment that this club has faced. To have it be handed to you by your city’s biggest historical rival just added salt to the wound. This pair of matches should go a long way toward igniting the continued rivalry, even if they are to stay in different conferences after this season.