The Chicago Fire’s three-game homestand carries on this weekend following a last-minute 3-2 loss to the first place New England Revolution on Wednesday night.
Now, on Sunday, head coach Raphael Wicky and his side have the task of taking on second place Nashville SC, who are fresh off a 5-1 thrashing of Inter Miami.
Here’s what to look for ahead of a matinee clash at the lakefront…
LAST TIME OUT
I hate to even bring it up, but the last time these two teams met in Music City, it was not pretty.
Head coach Gary Smith’s group, with midfielder Hany Muhktar at the helm, jumped all over the Fire. They scored three goals inside of the first 15 minutes in an opening quarter-hour that also included a red card for Johan Kappelhof.
The game was over rather quickly despite a valiant fight from the Fire in the second half. It finished 5-1, and it was a night to forget for Chicago.
Human nature is pretty straightforward in these types of situations. There will be a response. You simply can’t endure that type of night, line up against them again, and put on a performance close to anything resembling the previous game.
Expect to see a high-flying, eager Fire group try to return the favor to Nashville. This is to say nothing of the fact they had their hearts ripped out by New England just three nights prior.
NASHVILLE (SC) HOT CHICKEN
This group is scalding at the moment. They have only lost two games since June 23, and are 9-2-6 in that span.
Muhktar continues to make a case for MLS MVP, but I still believe - especially after Wednesday night – New England’s Carles Gil will be awarded that honor.
Muhktar has 12 goals and nine assists for a group that struggled to score last year. Forward CJ Sapong has been the Robin to Muhktar’s Batman, with 10 goals and 4 assists of his own. He has fit in nicely on lower Broadway.
Midfielder Randall Leal hasn’t been as prolific as some might have expected, but he’s still more than serviceable. He provides a lot of quality in the attacking third, with five goals and seven assists this season.
The backline anchored by Walker Zimmerman and the midfield led by Dax McCarty are the first things you think of when Nashville comes to mind. Zimmerman has helped the Nashville defensive unit maintain the second-fewest goals allowed in the league, having only conceded 24 this year. They’ve also kept a league-best 10 clean sheets.
Nashville went from a group that was third-to-last in goals scored last year, to tied for second-most with NYCFC. Gary Smith and General Manager Mike Jacobs have done a tremendous job of building this team and filling in missing pieces along the way. This group is playing some of its best football at the moment, and given how good they are defensively, I would not be surprised to see them make a serious run in the postseason.
This is another gargantuan test of the Fire's character to see how they can compete with some of MLS’ best. Nashville will look to capitalize on mistakes and go quickly the other way to find Muhktar in open space and isolated in 1-v-1s. Sapong will make intelligent runs in behind or provide a hold-up option, so the backline will need to be organized and engage in a lot of communication.
Beating Nashville and breaking them down takes a complete performance. I can’t wait for another spectacular day of football along the lakefront at Soldier Field on Sunday. If you can’t make it out, then Tony Meola and I will talk to you at noon CT on WGN and CFFC Live.