Orlando City got its 2022 Major League Soccer season off to a good start last week with a home victory over CF Montreal. The Lions will now hit the road to try to keep the good times rolling when they take on the Chicago Fire tomorrow evening.
The showdown with Chicago means that I spoke with Patrick McCraney, managing editor of SBNation’s Hot Time in Old Town. He was kind enough to help get us up to speed on a Chicago team that has some new faces after a very busy off-season.
One of the biggest stories surrounding the Fire this off-season was the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri and Kacper Przbylko. How did the two look last week against Miami?
Patrick McCraney: Shaqiri looked good. He was very involved, had a few great passes that led to chances that should have been finished, and ripped a great shot from distance to the upper 90 that was saved by Clement Diop. He was also fouled a ton by Miami, many of which weren’t called. It will be interesting to see if Orlando tries to do the same.
Przybylko wasn’t bad, but could have been better. He worked hard and made smart runs to pull defenders away from Shaqiri. But he’s a striker, so he’s mainly judged on his goals, and he didn’t score. Kacper had three shots — one on target — and should have walked away with at least one goal.
There’s also a new coach in town, with Ezra Hendrickson taking the reins back in November. Although it’s a small sample size, what differences have you noticed between his style and approach and that of previous coach Raphael Wicky?
PM: Wicky was a smart soccer mind and a kind man who seemed to struggle at times being a “leader of men.” Ezra doesn’t share the same problem. Under Wicky, the Fire were increasingly dysfunctional, with rumors of fights in training and teammates forming cliques (remember the ridiculous fight over who would take the penalty between Robert Beric and Alvaro Medran against Orlando in 2020? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about). Hendrickson seems to have a handle on all that. He commands respect, and has the Fire united, pulling in the same direction. To be fair, it’s early in his tenure, and things could always change.
What is the atmosphere like around the Fire this year? What do you believe the expectations should be for the team?
PM: It’s like the dark cloud has lifted over the team. The atmosphere is incredible compared to last season. Fans are excited for the first time since 2017. It just feels different. Now, will this team go out and win MLS Cup? Very doubtful. But after years of failure in Chicago, a winning record and a playoff run in 2022 would be seen as a massive step forward, and I think both are reasonable to expect.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PM: We’re monitoring a hamstring injury on center back Carlos Teran, who was out last week. Defensive midfielder Federico Navarro missed all of preseason, but came on for the final 30 minutes against Inter Miami. I would expect him to start.
It should look something like this:
(4-2-3-1) GK: Gabriel Slonina; DEF: Miguel Navarro, Rafael Czichos, Wyatt Omsberg, Boris Sekulic; MID: Federico Navarro, Gaston Gimenez, Fabian Herbers, Xherdan Shaqiri, Stanislav Ivanov; FWD: Kacper Przybylko.
Keep an eye on 18-year-old Jhon Duran, who will come on as a substitute if he doesn’t start. As a young player, he makes plenty of mistakes, but he’s got a wicked left foot.
I say the Fire ride the momentum of the home opener to a 2-1 win over Orlando. Shaqiri will score his first MLS goal.
Big thank you to Patrick for the excellent update on the Fire. Vamos Orlando!