After two weeks to revel in the Red Bulls road win, the Chicago Fire head to Children’s Mercy Park to take on Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.
SKC currently sit in third place in a jam-packed top of the Western Conference Table, whereas the Fire remain seven points off of a playoff spot in the East with 12 games to play.
Here’s what to look for as Chicago look to make it two wins in a row against an old rival…
JUST FLAT OUT GOOD…
Head coach Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City have proven over the years they are just simply one of the most consistent clubs in MLS.
Over the last 10 seasons, SKC have qualified for the postseason nine times, including their MLS Cup win in 2013.
Vermes is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the league along with the likes of Greg Vanney, Brian Schmetzer, etc. and he gets a lot out of his group. They use a really good combination of young, exciting talent mixed with veterans from all over the world.
They are a possession-oriented team that can also hit you extremely quickly on the counter. They move the ball really well and look to isolate the likes of Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi. Salloi, a Hungarian international, has been in tremendous form with 12 goals already this season after scoring just one goal in the last two seasons. He is a man who quite literally lost himself after leading SKC in scoring in 2018 (16 across all competitions) and has reinvigorated his still young career at just 25 years of age. Salloi is second in the MLS Golden Boot race right now behind Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz, who has 14.
Alan Pulido is the main man up top as their No. 9. He’s scored 14 goals and dished out eight assists in 30 games since coming to MLS last year. He is a direct, strong and spatially aware striker that will punish you for mistakes and put himself in good spots to score.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE…
The 4-3-3 that Vermes employs is held down by longtime SKC veteran, Roger Espinoza. However, he will be unavailable for selection on Saturday following his red card and ensuing suspension against LAFC this past weekend.
Homegrown product Gianluca Busio was typically in the middle of the park with Espinoza, but he was sold to Serie A side Venezia FC back on Aug. 5. Another homegrown, Cameron Duke, has since been getting some of his minutes in the engine room. Duke was with SKC’s USL Championship affiliate club, SKC II in the beginning of the year, but has been making scattered appearances with the first team since early July.
New signing, José Mauri, was brought in from Talleres - the same club as new Fire signing Federico Navarro - to help out in the middle of the field. Mauri has experience in Italy with Parma, AC Milan, and Empoli. He’s gotten limited appearances at all of his stops (75 since 2013), but made his SKC debut against LAFC last weekend in a 4-0 win for Bob Bradley’s crew. Frenchman Remi Walter was added to the SKC roster this season and has appeared in 18 games, starting 14.
The backline has been anchored by the Spanish duo of Fontàs and Illie. Illie used to play in more of a defensive midfield role but has since made the move to centerback and it has worked nicely. Felipe Martins (on the left) and Graham Zusi (on the right) provide quality and experience at both fullback positions.
Children’s Mercy is one of the tougher places to play in MLS. I am excited for my first trip to Kansas City to experience it first-hand.
SKC are well-organized, well-coached and difficult to break down, especially considering the form goalkeeper Tim Melia has been in lately.
Federico Navarro will start training with the team this week. I can’t imagine his fitness levels are close to 90 minutes just yet, but perhaps he’ll make his debut.
Regardless, given the road win and two-week break, the Fire should be fresh and ready for a fight against a quality Western Conference side. If you want to make the playoffs, you have to get some type of result in almost every fixture in the remaining 12.
See you on WGN and CFFC Live at 7:30 PM CT Saturday night.