As the Crew said goodbye to their historic stadium on Saturday, the Fire will say hello to their home venue for a crucial stretch of games on the lakefront.
Coming off a match on Saturday in which the Fire showed some decent signs in possession and build-up, they simply could not find the quality in the final third to break through.
Now, the Fire come home to Soldier Field to start a critical four-game homestand as we officially hit the summer months in Chicago.
It’s a quick turnaround for Rapha Wicky’s boys as they take on FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT. Here’s what the matchup will look like featuring two sides that are separated by just 300 miles and level on four points in 2021.
SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
It’s no secret this will be a battle of the two teams at the bottom of the table in the Eastern Conference.
DISCLAIMER: There are still 26 games left to play and the Fire are just SEVEN (yes, seven) points off of a playoff spot.
Both FCC and the Fire have struggled in the similar category of producing goals this season, with just 10 goals combined between the two sides. However, the Fire have been a bit more sound defensively, conceding 13 goals to FCC’s league-high 17.
While some of the numbers and struggles seem to be mirror images, the way these two teams go about their business and fair against their competition is very different.
On a couple different occasions, FCC have been played off the field (i.e. 5-0 at NYCFC and 3-0 at Orlando City SC ). They have, however, put up a number of solid performances in which they just came out on the wrong end of a tough score line, including their most recent 2-0 loss at Colorado. The Fire’s largest margin of defeat has only been two and they, as usual, have “been in” every game they’ve played.
I know that sentiment may continue to be frustrating for Fire fans, but it does mean something. It doesn’t get you points on the board, but it does mean you’re close, or at least in the neighborhood. One of our 77, perhaps.
Tactically, FCC sit - or at least continue to be pinned back – in a much deeper block. The Fire obviously love to throw numbers forward in exchange for being a bit exposed on the counter.
The word coming into this season from Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam and the technical staff is that they wanted to be more offensive-minded and entertaining than the previous two years of their MLS tenure. This hasn’t exactly come to fruition, but they have upgraded from a personnel standpoint.
Luciano “Lucho” Acosta was the eye-catching signing of the off-season, a move that brought the magical Argentine back to MLS. Brazilian striker Brenner was also acquired, having been touted as one of the most promising youngsters in South America. That’s including our boy Jhon Durán, who arrives State-side in January.
In preseason, when these two teams met in Orlando, FCC were still trying to figure out exactly what they’d look like going forward. Acosta was playing as sort of a dual No. 9 sitting underneath Brenner. They were also tinkering with the backline and figuring out if they could get away with a four-back system. The answer was effectively “no,” as they’ve gone back to their three-back formation that looks more like five when they are pinned back.
Allan Cruz has emerged as the more holding central midfielder with Yuya Kubo and Lucho Acosta playing as a double 8/10 in front of him.
The word coming into the 2021 campaign back in February was that they were not done signing players. That proved true, as the likes of centerbacks Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla and winger Issac Atanga were relatively late additions and not on the roster in early March down in Florida.
With all of this in mind, FCC are still figuring out where their puzzle pieces are supposed to fit. The results have certainly spoken to that.
The Fire are about to enjoy a four-game homestand at Soldier Field with 100% capacity just around the corner. There is still so much football to be played, and a minimal margin to be closed for a playoff spot.
I don’t think there’s a ton of tactical analysis here. It was Minnesota United’s manager Adrian Heath who, in a heated on-field interview following a tough result, was asked a question about the tactics of the game. Instead, he chose to talk about running, tackling and winning 50/50s. I think the Fire are at this point.
The technical staff and players have seen these teams before and they know the system. They know what their job is and where they’re supposed to be. To put an end to this scoring drought and tough stretch to start the season, it might just take some good, old-fashioned elbow grease.
This is not to say the Fire haven’t been playing hard or anything of the sort. But, to snap out of this funk, they may need to run a defender over and will the ball into the net. They may have to make a gut-busting run from 50 yards away to deflect a shot that is destined for the net.
My colleague Tony Meola always says, “There’s two things that can galvanize a team: A road win, or a late home win.” I’m not suggesting that the Fire save it for late against FCC, but those moments can bring a group together and turn the ship around.
12 points are up for grabs at home in the next 2 weeks, and it all starts Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT on WGN and CFFC Live. My boys Tony and Arlo White will be in the booth, and I’ll be listening closely down on the touchline with Jaap and Rapha.