Orlando City is on the road once again, this time traveling to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire. In a battle between two teams tied for last in the Eastern Conference, a victory would go a long way toward protecting the Lions’ pride and not collecting the Wooden Spoon at the season’s end. The Fire are the only club in the league with a worse run of form than Orlando since the beginning of July, securing just one point in nine matches.
But Chicago is at home and City has struggled mightily on the road like most MLS sides. Adnan Basic, a correspondent for SB Nation’s Hot Time in Old Town stopped by to give us an update on how the Fire have fared since the last time they took on Orlando City. I also answered HTIOT’s questions and you can find those here.
After finishing third in the East in 2017, Chicago has looked more like its 2014-2016 versions this season that finished near the bottom. Was last year an anomaly or has something gone terribly wrong this year?
Adnan Basic: The Fire should have absolutely built upon a hugely successful 2017 season, but the front office has let fans down every step of the way this year. It started with management failing to bring in the necessary signings in the off-season, putting the Fire behind the eight ball before the first match even kicked off. Then came the unreasonably harsh decision to revoke the privileges and ban supporters group Sector Latino. This led to Section 8, the other main supporters group, protesting until the decision is reversed. Without both groups, the games have no atmosphere. The off-the-field issues have definitely affected the players on the field, who play with no hope or belief in their own abilities. Some blame does go to Head Coach Veljko Paunovic, who has made some really mind boggling decisions throughout the year and isn’t able to get the best out of his players. However, at the end of the day, the front office is responsible for the team being so poor this season.
Aleksandar Katai has had quite the impact for the Fire and Nemanja Nikolic has a respectable 12 goals, but Chicago is still tied for second-to-last in goals scored in the East. What’s holding the attack back?
AB: Those two have been superb this season, but they are not getting any real help. There’s no third man in the attack to open up space for Nikolic and Katai. Some thought Luis Solignac could be the final piece of the puzzle, but he’s had injury problems all year, and never really got going. The midfield is quite defensive as well, so there’s never a late run coming into the penalty area from deep. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the most creative player on the pitch, but he’s been stuck playing center back. There is some hope, as new signing Raheem Edwards has shown promises in his first couple of games for the club.
Chicago and Orlando are in the same position with playoffs highly unlikely. Has this altered how Paunovic is approaching matches?
AB: Ever since realizing that the playoffs are out of reasonable reach, Paunovic has begun to experiment with the starting XI. Since the results don’t matter too much, he’s been giving certain players a chance in the team. Youngster Stefan Cleveland has started the past few games, and it’s been nice to see him get some legitimate game time. It does seem like Paunovic is just waiting for the year to be over as his contract expires at the end of the season and it doesn’t seem like he’ll choose to re-sign.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
AB: Since the Fire have been out of action for so long, any players who were dealing with injuries should be able to return to the side. There’s a chance Patrick McLain will be able to start in goal for the first time in months, while Homegrown signing Grant Lillard should finally be able to put his injury problems behind him. The only key player who will be out is starting right back Matt Polster, who has pretty much missed the entire season with an MCL tear. I don’t have much of an idea of the expected starting XI, but I’d assume Pauno will stick with the 3-4-3 he’s been using in recent matches.
From right to left: Patrick McLain; Johan Kappelhof, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Grant Lillard; Nicolas Hasler, Dax McCarty, Brandt Bronico, Brandon Vincent; Michael de Leeuw, Nemanja Nikolic, Aleksansar Katai
In terms of a match prediction, the only thing I can guarantee is goals. Both teams have shambolic defenses and decent enough attacks, which should lead to a high scoring contest. This season has been a nightmare for the Fire, and I don’t expect much to change. Orlando wins 4-3 with a late goal.
Thanks again to Adnan for taking the time to answer some questions.