We’ve arrived at the end of the line for Orlando City’s 2019 season. It was certainly a year that had its ups and downs, and it ends with the Lions yet again with their noses pressed up against the proverbial windows of the house that is the MLS Cup playoffs. There’s only a single game left to play in 2019, and it sees the Chicago Fire travel southeast to Exploria Stadium.
That meant that I sat down with Ruben Tisch of SBNation’s Hot Time in Old Town, and he was gracious enough to give us one last look at the 2019 version of the Fire. I also answered Ruben’s questions and you can find my answers over at their place.
Chicago and Orlando City ended up in the same boat: on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. What was the biggest problem for Chicago this year?
Ruben Tisch: The biggest problems the Fire have are systemic, more than anything else. Those issues caused the Fire to start the season with a roster void of fullbacks, and no idea about where or how they wanted to play. That apprehension and confusion led to a lot of dropped points earlier in the season, and they never really recovered. Also, Nemanja Nikolic never really found his scoring boots, and scoring goals consistently was a problem for the squad.
What do you believe is the biggest thing that the Fire need to address in the off-season? What is their number one priority?
RT: With a brand new owner at the helm, the biggest thing that needs to be addressed are those systemic issues I alluded to earlier. A new GM would not be remiss, nor would an overhaul of the coaching staff and scouting system, as well as an improvement of the overall club culture, as it has been pretty toxic over the last few years.
The thing I personally most want to see is an in-house USL side. The club needs a stop between the academy and the first team for the new professionals to get some playing time before they play for the first XI. Players like Drew Conner and Victor Paneda never really got a shot in MLS, and having a place where they can play and develop should prevent more busts coming out of the academy.
With the playoffs gone do you expect Veljko Paunovic to try to get a look at any youngsters or players that might be on the roster bubble in the off-season, or do you expect a first choice lineup?
RT: We can hope so. Pauno has never really been one to play marginal or young players, regardless of the situation, unless he has no other choices. Jeremiah Gutjahr, for example, only got playing time early in the season because our left back at the time, Jorge Corrales, was suspended for a red card the previous game and the roster was such that there was literally no one else to do it.
In that sense, I expect Pauno will play his first choice roster on Saturday in an attempt to prove something to someone, be it himself or Joe Mansueto or the fans that he can, in fact, get the job done for next year.
Along that same note, are there any call-ups, injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
RT: There are no call-ups or injuries as far as we know. What I want for the lineup (which may be different than our preview because I’m not writing it.) is as follows in a 4-2-3-1 from left to right:
Stefan Cleveland; Andre Reynolds III, Grandt Lillard, Francisco Calvo, Johan Kappelhof; Jeremiah Gutjahr, Brandt Bronico; CJ Sapong, Djordje Mihailovic, Przemysław Frankowski; Fabian Herbers.
As for a score prediction, 0-0 draw.
That’ll do it for the last Intelligence Report of the 2019 season. It’s been a pleasure bringing this column to you guys every match week and I do hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have. Big thanks to Ruben for giving us the goods on Chicago.