I’m going to be honest here...it’s not going to be an easy task for Orlando City to go into Toyota Park and get a result tonight. The Lions are road weary, having played at Seattle on Wednesday night, facing their third match in eight days, and having had two incredibly emotional last-minute comeback draws in a week.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire are the hottest team in MLS (sorry, but that just sounds weird after watching the league the last couple of seasons) and the home team will be rested and ready, having not played since last Saturday at New England. Chicago is 7-0-1 at home, while Orlando is 1-4-2 on the road.
This combination of things is a recipe for a lopsided score line. But I suppose we must still kick off and see what happens. Hopefully it will be good things for the Lions.
With a 7-0-1 mark at home, the Fire appear to have turned Toyota Park into a fortress in 2017. What's going on out in Bridgeview?
Sean Spence: Almost every answer to every question about the Fire this year is 'better players.' This roster is filled with very good footballers, and the past several just were not. What's more, the best players on this roster are involved with thinking about game management in a very direct way, manipulating the tempo and approach of the Fire in response to challenges on the field that is virtually impossible to counter or to fake. It shows up in obvious ways (winning matches) and less obvious ways (seldom being in a negative game-state at home). This Fire team is very good because it's made up of very smart players (who oh by the way cost a whoooole lotta money), and that kind of thinking seems to be contagious.
Is there any sense from what you've seen that teams around the league are not yet convinced Chicago is for real this season? What evidence have you seen?
SS: I think the league recognizes how good the Fire first XI are right now, but also recognizes that the Men in Red are a couple injuries away from being significantly less imposing. The only evidence I've seen that the league is a little slow on the uptake about the new reality in Chicago has been the tendency of the opposition to try to aggressively high-press this side, as this plays entirely into the hands of the Fire's desire to spread the field and create space in behind for the attackers to exploit.
How good a manager is Veljko Paunović? Or is it too difficult to tell because of the added on-field talent this season? What is it that he brings to the club?
SS: It is so, so hard to say. I will say that the team has some of the tactical basics that it lacked, especially under Frank Yallop — they have couple of solid, basic shapes, and they look like they're well-drilled in cover, playing out, and basic approach in both of them, which means that simply (for instance) facing a 4-4-2 won't result in constant one-on-one defending for the center backs. That's surely credit to Paunovic and his staff. But the team also displays a proactive tactical flexibility on the field which simple observation demonstrates flows from the conversations between Dax, Basti and the center backs on the field. I will credit Paunovic for benching both Michael Harrington and Jorge Bava — the defensive cohesion has been much-improved since their demotion.
Injuries/suspensions/projected lineup/score prediction?
SS: David Accam has been held out of two games; the explanation given was 'recovery issues.' No idea if that meant that Accam was physically shot, or struggling with a lingering hip problem and skipping the turf, or if the recovery in question involved recovering the dollars spent on his transfer fee by selling him. He's an X-factor for the Fire when he's on the field, and he's an X-factor as we consider a probable starting XI. He might be with Ghana! He might not! I'm gonna guess David's summer break continues, but he could just as easily play the full 90. Besides that, there's little injury news. Schweinsteiger struggled with an apparent bruised hip suffered during the game last weekend, but didn't leave the field. Juninho has struggled with an ankle knock, but looked healthy against New England. The Men in Red have been fortunate for the first half of 2017.
4-3-3: Matt Lampson; Brandon Vincent, Joäo Meira, Johan Kappelhof, Matt Polster; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty, Juninho; Luis Solignac, Nemanja Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw
Prediction: 2-0 Fire. Goals by Nikolic and de Leeuw.
Big thanks to Sean from Hot Time in Old Town for stopping by to help us learn more about the Chicago Fire.