After 35 days away from home, Chicago Fire FC will return to Soldier Field this Saturday night to take on D.C. United.
The resumption of regular season play takes place following a three-week pause in the team’s schedule for the FIFA international window, and kicks off a jam-packed summer of matches for Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson’s side as they look to climb the Eastern Conference table.
Hendrickson and midfielder Fabian Herbers spoke on the team’s recovery during the break and their preparations for the busy schedule ahead on Wednesday’s weekly media availability.
“My sentiment is that the team is positive; that they are excited to get back out there,” Herbers said. “They are excited to play at Soldier Field again, and have a home game with supposedly nice weather. I think it should be a good crowd there. (There’s) just excitement to play again, because when you don't play for three weeks, and you're just training it's a bit tough.”
Entering the June break, the Fire were winless in 10 matches and coming out of a particularly difficult four-match stretch against FC Cincinnati, the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, and Toronto FC in which Hendrickson believed the team should’ve taken more points from.
The team was given time off following the Toronto match, but returned for two weeks of training ahead of this weekend’s resumption of play against D.C.
“Sometimes when you're so close, but so far away, it's good to take a break,” Hendrickson said. “So it was good for us to get that break. We gave the guys three or four days off to kind of just reset, refresh, reset mentally, especially, as well as physically.”
“After that run of four games, it was good to take a break and take some time off,” he added. “We have had two really good weeks of training now and the guys are ready, we've made sure that we kept the guys confident.”
Several Fire players were involved in international action during the break, with midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland), defender Miguel Navarro (Venezuela), and midfielder Sergio Oregel (U.S. U-19 Men’s Youth National Team) all saw action with their respective national teams, and have since returned to help prepare for Saturday’s match at Soldier Field.
Shaqiri left Switzerland’s final match of the break - a 1-0 win over Portugal on June 12 - in the 21st minute with a hamstring concern. Hendrickson addressed’s the Swiss star’s status on Wednesday’s call, and provided an additional update on Young Designated Player Jairo Torres’s left hip injury.
“(Shaqiri is) day-to-day right now,” he said “We are still trying to make a final evaluation on that but he did just slightly strain his hamstring. We'll know more in the next couple days as to how severe that is.
“(Torres is) still nursing his ongoing injury, but he's making progress in that,” Hendrickson added. “So again, that's another day-to-day stuff that we are trying to make sure we get him back fully fit before we put him back on the pitch.”
Saturday’s match with D.C. will be the second time these sides have squared off this season. The Fire were 2-0 victors over D.C. on March 12 at Audi Field, when Stanislav Ivanov scored the opening goal in the 32nd minute before Jonathan Bornstein slammed the door in the 81st.
Since that match took place, D.C. have both parted ways with former head coach Hernan Losada, and also seen both arrival and the emergence of Designated Player Taxiarchis “Taxi” Fountas.
“I think it's a dangerous team,” Herbers said. “I think usually they play with five in the back and obviously Julian Gressel puts in a lot of dangerous crosses from that side. I think it's a team that's just picked up rhythm and it's up to us to disrupt that rhythm now and ourselves create some momentum going forward.”
Fountas debuted as a second half substitute in D.C.’s 3-2 defeat against Austin on April 16, and has since generated five goal and three assists in seven appearances. Losada was let go on April 20, with with assistant coach Chad Ashton being appointed as interim head coach.
“They have a different coach now, so we're not expecting they are going to come here and lay down for us,” Hendrickson said. “It's going to be a battle. They need points just as we do, but we are in the mindset now that we know that we need to win our home games going forward because that's going to be a big part of us being there come playoff time - how we do in our home games. We've had two good weeks of training after taking a few days off that first week to kind of reset and regroup. So we are expecting a battle. We feel fully prepared for them. Looking forward to the game on Saturday.”
While looking to secure three points at home, the Fire will also celebrate Juneteenth - the historic date commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans in the U.S. - throughout Saturday’s matchday at Soldier Field with a number of special events and activities related to the holiday.
Details on Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration can be found here, and tickets for the 7 p.m. CT kickoff are available by clicking the link below.
START THE SEASON AT SOLDIER FIELD
Be there for our 2023 Home Opener against New York City FC on Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m CT!