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Intelligence Report: Scouting Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire

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Our friends from Hot Time in Old Town stop by to offer up some information on Friday's opponents, the Chicago Fire. Let's find out more about this team that has changed so much from last season.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Just five days after a thrilling stoppage time two-goal rally, the Lions have to lace up their boots and get back after it. They won't have Kaká (thigh injury) or Darwin Ceren (red card suspension) but they may have Antonio Nocerino rounding into match fitness as well as Cristian Higuita, who has returned from international duty with Colombia.

Orlando City had a mixed bag of results against the Chicago Fire last season, winning two, drawing one and losing in a U.S. Open Cup match. What will Year 2 hold in store? It's tough to say. Chicago has undergone a whole lot of change since 2015.

Here to help us scout Friday's opponent is Jeff Engelhardt, editor-in-chief of our Chicago Fire sister blog, Hot Time in Old Town.

What were the Fire's key off-season acquisitions and departures and how have they affected the team so far?

Jeff Engelhardt: There were so many key departures this offseason it is hard to keep track. Because the team was dead last in 2015, it's hard to say any departure has negatively affected the team. But when Mike Magee plays a role in all four L.A. goals on opening night, it does rub a little salt in the wound. Along with Magee, the departures of Jeff Larentowicz, Joevin Jones, Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp were all significant losses.

On the other hand, some of the key additions seem promising. Arturo Alvarez was arguably the best player on the field against New York City FC Sunday and John Goossens had a tremendous preseason and will look to debut Friday. Brandon Vincent is a promising rookie with national team potential, but still learning the MLS game. Our international center backs in Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira are still learning to play with each other. Kappelhof seems promising but Meira has been shaky in most appearances so far.

Goalkeeper Matt Lampson seemed like a depth signing at first but now appears to be the starter between the posts for the foreseeable future.

What kind of tactics has Veljko Paunović brought to the Fire and what can we expect Friday night in terms of shape?

JE: As you can see, all the new faces have done more than affect the team. They are in essence the team itself. With new coach Veljko Paunovic's system, there is still optimism the new pieces can come together.

Paunovic deploys an aggressive, high pressing system. He likes to play out of the back and draw the opposing defensive line higher up the field. Generally, he starts with a 4-2-3-1 but is not afraid to switch to a version of the 3-5-2 as he did on Sunday. Technically, he called it a 3-4-1-2 but three-center back line is the key either way and allows the attack to flood the midfield when on offense.

Gilberto is questionable for Friday and if he is not good to go, I would not be surprised to see Paunovic start right away with the 3-4-1-2 in order to allow David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to work together up top, which worked Sunday.

Chicago's opening loss to NYCFC was a high-scoring affair. Were the defenses that bad or were the offenses that good?

JE: The defenses were awful and there is just no other way around it. Joao Meira dropkicked his own teammate in the head on one goal, Polster slipped on another. Communication between the back line and Lampson was all off. New York was no better as the fullbacks turned the ball over at will, central defenders lost their marks, and breakaways were easy to come by.

It is no excuse, but both sides struggled the most when playing against the wind. It was a very gusty day and for two teams trying to play out of the back, that caused a lot of chaos that ultimately fell on the defense to try and clean up. Not to take away anything from the offenses, which were entertaining, but I doubt either will look that overwhelming all season.

What is your expected starting XI and predicted score for Friday's match?

JE: There is an injury question with Gilberto and potential jet lag issue with Goossens, but this is how I think the XI will look in a 3-4-1-2, assuming Gilberto is out:

Lampson; Meira, Campbell, Kappelhof; Vincent, Cocis, Polster, Alvarez; Goossens; Accam, Igboananike

Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing Chicago pulling this one out. Orlando should be extra motivated after needing to pull off a great escape during its home opener against Real Salt Lake. This is a mulligan and chance for redemption. The Fire will have a better chance if Kaká remains sidelined, obviously, but either way I see this ending 2-1 for Orlando.

The Fire will want to focus on defense and limit the goals after conceding four. Orlando will want the ball, a lot. Cyle Larin keeps his train rolling while Kevin Molino shows why he is a breakout candidate and scores the other. David Accam proves too fast as always and gets the Fire on board.

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Big thanks to Jeff for giving us some insight on Orlando City's next opponent. Let's hope his prediction is right on the nose, for Kevin Molino's sake.