The Chicago Fire enter the final phase of the 2021 MLS season on Saturday at New England, when their remaining five games take place over the course of 20 days.
Four of those five games will be on the road, and the Fire will start this final sprint at the home of the soon-to-be Supporter’s Shield winners. This will be the third and final time the two sides face off, as the Fire have endured a loss and a draw against Bruce Arena’s bunch this season.
Here’s what to keep an eye out for as the Fire travel to Foxborough…
The Revs have already collected 65 points this season, clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and are only one of two teams (Seattle) to have clinched a postseason berth.
They are only seven points off the MLS record for most points earned in a season with five games to play.
This group is knocking on the door of history, and are having fun while doing it.
The Revolution have only gone three games without a win once this season, and they responded with a nine-match unbeaten streak that included eight wins.
If it seems like this group is out for blood every time they step on the field, it is probably because they are. Everything that they do on the field is with 100% commitment. When they go forward, it is a sprint from the likes of Tajon Buchanan, Dejuan Jones, Gustavo Bou, etc. to get beyond the ball and create space.
When defending, there are typically 10 Revs back behind the ball and racing to cover one another in tough situations, with forward Adam Buksa being the outlet up top.
In possession, New England are poised, keen to stretch you, and constantly making the extra pass or the right decision. I know this may seem like an “ode to the Revs,” but we might be witnessing the best regular season in MLS history. It’s important to understand why.
Yes, they have the probable MVP in Carles Gil (sorry, Daniel Salloi and Hany Muhktar). Yes, they have a young starlet who has burst onto the scene and is destined for Europe in Tajon Buchanan. Yes, they have an opportunistic DP striker to latch onto the end of great team moves. However, the collective is proving to be the entity to marvel at as opposed to their standout individuals. When watching this team, I can’t help but notice they are a true, cohesive, well-drilled, team. It’s cheesy and simple, but it is what it is.
This group does things that are obvious, but essential for a championship side. They run for each other, have three DPs who produce almost every game, and bring energy right from the first whistle. In their last match before the international break, they jumped all over a solid Montréal side, going up 3-0 inside of 30 minutes. From there, the Revs cruised to a 4-1 win at Saputo Stadium.
To beat this group, you have to put the work in for an entire 90 minutes, have your big time players show up, and match their intensity.
LAST TIME OUT
The Fire welcomed New England to Soldier Field just three weeks ago in a game in which Bruce Arena made nine changes to his lineup from their match prior - a 1-1 draw against Columbus. Their only regular starters in the XI that night were Matt Turner and Henry Kessler.
The Fire didn’t start particularly well after conceding a set piece goal to Kessler, but responded soon thereafter with a goal from a corner in the form of Carlos Terán.
Bruce Arena brought on Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil at halftime, and the game completely changed. New England found a go-ahead goal through Teal Bunbury via route one, only to see that lead dissipate in less than 60 seconds when the Fire’s Gastón Giménez answered immediately with an equalizer.
When it was all said and done, Fire fans got a good look as to why Carles Gil is arguably the MVP in 2021, as he scored a close-range, near-post beauty in the final minute of stoppage time to secure all three points.
The game itself was quite the spectacle, but it’s difficult to really pull anything from it because of all of the rotation from Bruce Arena. I expect a close-to-full lineup given the international break with the possible exception of USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner, who may get the night off.
It is not going to be easy to go into the house of the best team in the league and try to steal a result, especially given the fact that they have only dropped points at Gillette Stadium three times this year.
We are in the home stretch of the season, and - as we have talked about before - the playoffs continue to be the longest of long shots (still mathematically possible, though). The guys are playing for pride, for contracts, and for the fans. If that isn’t enough reason to just put everything aside and try to knock off the number one team in the land, I’m not sure what is.
Make no mistake - a win would require the best performance of the season from the Fire, and boy would it be fun to spoil the Revs party as they inch closer to history.
Tony Meola and I will be back on the road, live from Foxborough on Saturday night at 6 p.m. CT on WGN and CFFC Live.