The Chicago Fire continued their unbeaten start to the season with a 0-0 draw with FC Dallas last weekend. With two wins and three draws, the Fire have kept four clean sheets already, with only Sporting Kansas City scoring past them in a 3-1 win for the Fire. That obviously doesn’t include the goal that was erroneously called back when Orlando City visited Soldier Field earlier this season, resulting in a 0-0 draw on March 5.
Because the referee wrongly (per the Professional Referee Organization) overturned Junior Urso’s goal on March 5, Orlando didn’t officially manage a single shot on goal in the game. The Lions’ new-look front line was still working on understanding how to connect and Chicago packed in a tight low block when Orlando had possession.
Here are three of the key strengths Orlando needs to consider and how the Lions may look to overcome a confident Chicago Fire team this Saturday.
The Chicago Fire, as mentioned, have conceded just one goal in five games and their defensive solidity has made them a difficult side to break down. Starting with Gabriel Slonina in goal, the 17-year-old is playing well beyond his years, having come through the Chicago Fire Academy.
In front of Slonina are a back four which remains compact out of possession and has proven to be stingy with space in and around the box. Ezra Hendrickson has his defenders remain compact while the midfield duo in front of the defense press and compete for the ball. There was limited space for the Dallas forwards to make runs and find passing lanes last weekend, as Chicago looked to force attacks wide to allow them to retreat and organize in and around the box. With the attack forced wide, there were often up to eight Chicago Fire players dropped back into defensive positions.
Even in transition, Hendrickson’s side slows play down well and allows the Fire’s defenders and midfield players to regain their positions and limit the shooting opportunities their opponents are able to create. Orlando City struggled to break the Fire down last time out and the central play meant there were limited options going forward. More width may be required, especially from Facundo Torres and whoever plays on the other side of the attack to try to disorganize the defense. The Orlando fullbacks will again be vital in the attack and having someone like Ercan Kara in the box, as well as Alexandre Pato to aim for, may be a useful weapon this weekend.
The Fire haven’t got a one-size-fits-all approach to attacking. Their rotation of players in attacking lines often give defenders a difficult task in containing their attacks. Center forward Kacper Przybylko moves quickly around the pitch to help bring others into the game as an option for a longer pass. His size and strength are used in buildup play to get the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Stanislav Ivanov, and Fabian Herbers into dangerous areas.
While they have rotation, at times their wide players will keep as far out wide as possible when there are no forward runs from their fullbacks. This stretches the opposition defense and makes Przybilko a target in the box who can cause central defenders a lot of problems.
The issues they have been having is that at times this attacking play has been slow to build, with the exception of maybe the Sporting Kansas City game. With their defensive solidity, the option to transition and counterattack is at times limited in numbers and if Orlando sets up in transition defensively, the Lions can stifle a lot of opportunities the Fire may look to create. This will require Rodrigo Schlegel to play more conservatively in the absence of the injured Antonio Carlos so he doesn’t get caught up field as he did on LAFC’s first goal last Saturday.
Dropping deep and retaining shape will be vital for Orlando, especially on turnovers, as well as when Chicago has possession in its defensive third. Blocking passing lanes into the middle of the pitch and remaining compact will be vital in limiting the space for Chicago’s forwards to find with their movement across the final third.
When Shaquiri is on his game, he is one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the league. He can find space and move across the pitch well, while having a lethal finish as well as a keen eye for a defense-splitting pass. His start to his MLS career has been impressive, if not exceptional, having only scored from the penalty spot so far this season.
In buildup, Shaqiri’s ability to play quick, give-and-go layoffs with his teammates opens up space well. He is averaging 2.4 key passes per game, according to whoscored.com, and without a pivot in the opponent’s midfield to watch him, he can find areas across the pitch where he can be dangerous. Junior Urso and César Araújo will have to consider their movements forward as a unit when in possession, especially knowing that Carlos will not be in central defense behind them. Shaqiri will look to take advantage of their movements to join attacks and find spaces which they have vacated to help build Chicago attacks.
Urso and Araújo have shown excellent timing of the forward runs to support attacks, though patience will be required to ensure no space is offered to Shaqiri. Especially on turnovers, with his ability the find defense-splitting passes and the pace of their forward line, it will be a big test as well for Orlando’s center backs.