Wednesday night was certainly a lot better than what the Fire experienced last weekend in Nashville but despite a point, it still felt like a points dropped after being up 2-0 at home with just 10 minutes to play.
It’s another quick turnaround as Chicago will finish up a 3-match, 8-day sprint as they host interim head coach Javier Pérez and Toronto FC to Soldier Field on Saturday night in the annual RAISE for P.L.A.Y.S game that will feature some fireworks after 90 minutes as well.
Here’s what to look for as the Fire look to make it three wins out of four at home against TFC…
FINALLY HOME (with some changes)
What a wild 16-months it has been for our three Canadian teams in Major League Soccer. Obviously with the rules and restrictions different for our neighbors to the north-- Vancouver, Montréal and Toronto have spent the last 16 months away their adoring fans. I can only imagine what this experience has been like for the fans, coaches, players and organizations.
Vancouver is the last team to return home and is set to do so next week while TFC and Montréal have already played games at BMO Field and Stade Saputo, respectively.
I cannot stress (nor truly understand) how difficult these past 16 months have been for the players and staff of these teams. They spent months on end away from their loved ones to continue to play the beautiful game and give their fans something to root for and Toronto, in particular, did it in style last year. They finished in 2nd place and had the MVP of the league.
However, 2021 has been an entirely different story with some key injuries in the beginning of the season and CONCACAF Champions League to balance out personnel wise. Former Fire great, Chris Armas was put in charge after Greg Vanney departed to the City of Angels and LA Galaxy.
It was Armas’ second crack at a head coaching position and it did not go well. Armas went 1-2-8 in league play and was fired after a six-match losing streak capped off by a 7-1 loss to D.C. United a few weeks ago. Javier Perez has since stepped in and has actually done quite well. The former Real Mardrid and U18/20 U.S. coach has gone 1-2-0 and got a win against New England and two draws against RBNY and Orlando. Those are all tough teams. Part of this turnaround can be attributed to the return of Jozy Altidore and Aljenadro Pozuelo. Altidore missed about a month and returned with thunder, scoring the lone goal in a 1-1 draw against Orlando. Pozuelo missed the majority of the beginning of the season and has been slowly reintegrated into the side but is still looking for his first goal of the season.
Ayo Akinola was filling in for Altiodre but went down with an ACL injury against the USMNT in the final game of group stages in Gold Cup. Hoping for a speedy recovery for the youngster.
Like a lot of teams over the past few weeks, TFC will be without some important names due to international duty including Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea and Eriq Zavaleta. Laryea and Osorio are obviously still alive with Canada and will take on Costa Rica in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
Zavaleta and El Salvador are pegged up against a solid Qatar side who got an invite as an out-of-town guest and are looking to make their mark on CONCACAF.
Another question mark will be a key defender and veteran in Auro who came off with an injury against RBNY in their latest fixture on Wednesday night. Good news for TFC is that all three of their DP’s are available for selection and Yefferson Soltedo has been playing some really good football as of late.
While this TFC side has struggled and are in the midst of a coaching transition, the ethos of this club and all the success they’ve seen since 2014 is still a part of their DNA and look to be turning the ship around.
While the result on Wednesday night was less than ideal I actually believe there was some really good football against a stingy bunch from D.C.. Stanislav Ivanov made his debut and Gastón Giménez looks to be settling back especially after his first goal for the Fire.
With the absence of Osorio—who is quietly so important to TFC—I think the Fire will have the run of the midfield especially given how well Álvaro Medrán and Giménez played and have been playing. Obviously Michael Bradley is towards the end of his career but still can cause problems and sets the tempo for TFC.
Toronto want to get the reigning MVP Pozeulo on the ball in between the lines, involve Soltedo on the wing and provide delivery into Altidore moving forward. Their formation is pretty straight forward as they set up in a 4-2-3-1. Bradley will collect in between Omar Gonzalez and act as a segway to Marky Delgado and then it’s all about locating Pozuelo after that. Almost any TFC attack will go through the Spaniard and he’s very difficult to predict with his movement and ability on the ball.
Dom Dwyer has been the point man up top but with two appearances off the bench for Jozy since his return on July 18th against Red Bulls I would peg him to get the start.
The threats from Toronto are obvious but containing them and limiting time and space on the ball is where the cheese lies. If Tonga and Médran can boss the game in the middle of the park and make TFC chase and those threats like Pozuelo and Soltedo defend then they will be in a good spot. Full-back Justin Morrow enjoys getting forward and the battle between he and Sekulić as to who can start higher will be an interesting tactical battle as well.
Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga are both strong central defenders and good in the air so keeping the ball on the deck and combining with Ignacio Aliseda and Robert Berić will pull them out and force them to rotate.
Raphael Wicky remains in Switzerland with his family and we remain keeping him in the forefront of our minds.
Big opportunity on the lakefront for three points to chip away at the 8-point differential between the Fire and 7th place NYCFC. Vamos!