After the team’s 2-0 win over NYCFC on Wednesday, the Chicago Fire will look to make it two-in-a-row as they take their talents back on the road and north of the border to face Toronto FC.
Following the Club parting ways with head coach Raphael Wicky on Thursday morning, assistant coach Frank Klopas will lead the Fire as they square off against Michael Bradley and Co. for the second and final time this season.
Here’s what to keep an eye on come Sunday at kickoff…
LAST TIME OUT
The previous meeting with TFC yielded the most frustrating result of the season, in which the Fire fell by a score of 2-1 despite dominating every facet of the game apart from the final score.
Chicago tied a club record for shots taken in a single game (31) and managed a 3.58 xG, but only scored once. Meanwhile, TFC scored twice off a .65 xG. Talk about a smash-and-grab type of performance.
Fire forward Ignacio Aliseda had the team’s best opportunities, but was denied by goalkeeper Alex Bono on multiple occasions. Nacho registered an xG of 1.00 himself, which – without actually scoring - is pretty wild. I am not a big stats guy whatsoever, but I think the numbers help paint a (not so) pretty picture of how dominant CFFC were without getting a result out of those 90 minutes.
Toronto’s Yeferson Soteldo was magical when he was on the ball and punished the Fire early on, before substitute Nick Deleon secured the eventual game-winner. A late goal from Fire midfielder Álvaro Medrán made it interesting, but the Fire were ultimately left without anything to show for it.
Before TFC’s 2-1 win over Nashville on Sept. 18, they had gone winless over a nine-game stretch that included a six-match losing streak. Their last win before Nashville? The 2-1 decision at Soldier Field on July 24.
The past three league games have been really encouraging from head coach Javi Perez’s side, though. They have taken seven points from them, with wins over Nashville and FC Cincinnati and a really good draw against a solid Colorado team. You can also throw in a convincing 4-0 win over York FC in the Canadian Championship quarterfinals.
Watching Toronto’s last few games, it is clear they are capable of playing some really good football. Soteldo continues to be the driving force behind the creativity in the attacking third while Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado and Bradley pull the strings in the middle of the park. Homegrown Jacob Shaffelburg has been proving his quality and his ability to finish after a tidy goal against FCC.
Like the Fire saw back in July, TFC want to go quickly on the counter, get Soteldo isolated 1-v-1 in wide areas, and let him do his thing. Bradley does a very good job playing out of pressure. This allows them to go quickly after turning the opposition over.
Reigning MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo has been battling an injury the entire season, and had another setback in training last week. The Spaniard has only appeared in 13 games this year, and – in pairing his injury woes with forward Jozy Altidore’s - TFC have struggled mightily. The two, combined, have played in just 23 games.
Every team goes through injuries over the course of a season, but it seems like TFC have gotten a raw deal in that department given the absences of two of their most important players.
It’s always difficult when a coach is let go, let alone in the middle of a season. With that said, these players have a job to do. They’ll continue to make a late season push, and - even further than that - make a case for themselves to be a piece of the puzzle next season.
This is not going to be the same type of test the Fire have faced over the last three games, which came against the first, second and third place teams in the Eastern Conference. However, this TFC team has been playing really well, and have scored nine goals in their last four matches in all competitions.
Between Delgado, Osorio and Bradley, the TFC midfield is disciplined and experienced. That trio has made 674 MLS regular appearances combined. Fire midfielders Gastón Giménez, Álvaro Médran and Federico Navarro will need to be extremely sharp. Fede will have to empty the tank once again, although that’s becoming an expectation from the 21-year-old who plays like a seasoned vet.
Forward Robert Berić scoring goals certainly doesn’t hurt, and - while it was fun to watch Fede score his first professional goal on Wednesday - don’t count on that being a regular occurrence. Chicago are still looking for consistent quality in the attacking third.
Tony Meola and I will be at SeatGeek Stadium calling Sunday’s match while the boys travel to BMO Field. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. CT on WGN and CFFC Live.