The Fire will return to Soldier Field this weekend to take on Head Coach Pat Noonan and FC Cincinnati prior to a stretch that will see Chicago hit the road for four of its next five matches.
FCC is coming off of a disappointing exit in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, in which they lost to New England 5-1 on Wednesday night despite scoring the first goal.
As far as MLS play is concerned, FCC has won three-straight - a first in club history.
Here is what to look for in the Gerber collision and Glass Scouting report ahead of the weekend:
THEY MIGHT BE FOR REAL
It is no secret that Cincy’s start to their MLS tenure hasn’t exactly been that of Atlanta or LAFC. The three-time wooden spoon winners have bled goals and struggled to score their own since joining MLS in 2019. They have conceded an average of two goals per game in the past three years.
After the appointment of former Philadelphia Technical Director Chris Albright as the General Manager and naming Pat Noonan as the Head Coach, the club seems to be finally heading in the right direction.
Getting rid of some not-so-successful contracts, hitting on a couple international signings, and landing some savvy draft picks have helped this side emerge as a potential playoff team in 2022. Right now, FCC sit in fifth place and have won their last three, including an impressive 1-0 win at Minnesota.
Forward Brandon Vazquez has been red hot. He’s currently in second place in the Golden Boot race just one behind Austin’s Sebastian Driussi. Not only has Vazquez been scoring goals, but his hold up play and overall role in Noonan’s 3-5-2 system has been exquisite. Vazquez has been predominantly starting next to MLS veteran Dominique Badji, with the ever-dangerous Luciano “Lucho” Acosta sitting behind them in a true No. 10 role. While Vazquez has grabbed the goals, Acosta has created and picked apart defenses all throughout MLS. He already has four goals and three assists, and anyone who has watched him recently knows he might be playing some of his best football in MLS in his sixth season in the league.
Meanwhile, defensively, a three-back system has been holding firm with Nick Hagglund, SuperDraft pick Ian Murphy, and Geoff Cameron getting the majority of playing time.
They’ve also recently added Obinna Nwobodo, who is effectively FCC’s version of Federico Navarro - a pure ball-winner with an incredible work rate. He has added another dimension to this FCC side that has been missing since their inception.
FCC have been playing incredibly well, there’s no getting around that. The Fire have obviously endured their struggles with suspensions and injuries, but those are a part of every club’s season. With four of the next five on the road, a strong performance and three points is vitally important this weekend. This will be a battle of two fantastic No. 10s in Xherdan Shaqiri and Acosta. It might come down to which one can have a better stranglehold of the game.
Gastón Giménez’s status - along with Jairo Torres - will have a significant impact on the game as well. Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson said Torres might be ready to make his debut for a few minutes this weekend, but the Fire need to grind out a result regardless of who is available. We should most likely see Chris Mueller’s first start in a Fire kit. The more chemistry he can develop with Shaqiri will only pay dividends in the long run. Those two already seem to have a good understanding of one another.
I expect FCC - especially after a midweek game - to do a decent amount of defending and utilize Acosta/Vazquez in the counter-attack, which has proven to be quite successful the past several weeks. Defensive-attacking (having proper shape, even when the Fire have the ball) will be important. They must make sure Acosta is accounted for and not allotted too much time and space on the ball, because he will pick the right pass and almost always execute. He has been that good recently.
See you at Soldier Field or WGN/CF97 Live on Saturday at 7 p.m. CT.