After beginning 2016 with a rare home season-opener, the Chicago Fire embark on their first road match under Veljko Paunovic when they visit Orlando City SC Friday night. The match kicks off at 6 p.m. CT and will be carried live to a national TV audience by UniMás and Univision Deportes. Fans can access an English-language broadcast for the match by utilizing the SAP function on their cable systems.
The two sides featured prominently in two of the most memorable matches from a wild MLS Opening Day, beginning with Chicago's seven-goal affair vs. New York City FC. While the Men In Red experienced varying degrees of success in executing Paunovic's preferred style of play over the course of the season-opener, it's clear the club is en route to establishing its on-field identity.
"Having the possession and building out of the back will give us that opportunity to commit them to step up and pull their defensive line higher, to create that depth behind as we scored the first goal and had so many chances," Paunovic said of his side's overall philosophy. "I honestly believe we were very successful in that, not that successful in building out of the back, but every time we achieved that we had those opportunities to run into the depth and attack their defensive line. We have to improve the realization of those opportunities and chances that we had. We have to score goals."
Paunovic may have to find those goals without the help of first-choice striker Gilberto, who is on the mend from a leg strain suffered in the opening minutes of Sunday's match. But in addition to the dynamic David Accam and an in-form Kennedy Igboananike, Pauno may be able to look for a boost from Dutch attacking midfielder John Goossens, who has rejoined the team after traveling overseas to secure his work permit. How he responds to this week's significant number of miles logged is likely to determine his ability to appear in the match.
Just like NYCFC's Khiry Shelton and Tony Taylor challenged Chicago's outside backs throughout the match, Paunovic expects the Lions to present similar physical and tactical challenges Friday.
"In a game that we saw in the preseason, [Orlando City SC] had a different setup from the one we saw in the game vs. Real Salt Lake, so playing at home we expect a more direct team than New York City FC," he said. "We expect to have to contrast the same way we tried to do versus New York. They have very strong guys, very fast guys who have experience in the league and can be very, very dangerous."
On the other side, Orlando City SC seemed destined for an opening-day defeat against Real Salt Lake, trailing by a 2-0 margin in the late stages with both teams reduced to 10 men. But the Lions salvaged an improbable draw, receiving a 94th-minute goal by 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin and a stunning equalizer in the 95th minute by Adrian Winter -- the eighth-latest game-tying tally in league history. It marked the fourth time in MLS history that a team rallied from a multiple-goal deficit in stoppage time.
“It was a crazy emotion,” Lions boss Adrian Heath said. “You feel like you’ve won because you’ve got something from the game when you’re thinking it’s got away from you. But I thought we were increasingly dangerous at the end. I don’t know how many efforts we had on goal, but it felt like we had four or five really good chances before we scored. You just don’t expect it to turn around that late.”
While the Men In Red plan for the possible absence of Gilberto, Heath knows he will be without injured Brazilian superstar Kaka for a second straight match, as well as midfielder Darwin Cerén, who will serve his mandatory suspension following his 44th-minute red card in the opener. He may, however, have the services of recently acquired Italian midfielder Antonio Nocerino, formerly of AC Milan and the Italian National Team.
Regardless of the make-up of the opposition, Paunovic promised to field a side that will lay it all on the line in search of the club's first road victory since July 12, 2014.
"We always want to win and be the best we can be," Paunovic said. "I think we can all agree that in the game against New York City, our team played trying to win, creating opportunities, and we fought all the way to the end. That's what we are going to do the same this time."
CHICAGO FIRE vs. ORLANDO CITY SC
SUSPENDED: ORL: Darwin Cerén (through March 13)
DISABLED LIST: none
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
ALL-TIME (3 meetings): Orlando City 2 wins, 5 goals … Fire 0 wins, 3 goals … Ties 1
AT ORLANDO (1 meeting): Orlando City 0 wins, 1 goal … Fire 0 wins, 1 goal … Ties 1
LAST YEAR (MLS)
6/6: CHI 2, ORL 3 (Igboananike 9; Accam 57 – own goal 40, 86; Larin 82)
8/29: ORL 1, CHI 1 (own goal 37 – Accam 30)
9/19: CHI 0, ORL 1 (Rochez 86)
• The teams met three times in league play in Orlando City SC’s inaugural season -- and OCSC came away with a result on each occasion. The Lions won both matches at Toyota Park, winning 3-2 on June 6 and 1-0 on Sept. 19; they played to a 1-1 draw Aug. 29 at the Citrus Bowl.
• The teams also met in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, the Fire advancing with a 3-1 win at Toyota Park thanks to a brace from substitute Kennedy Igboananike.
• Coaches record: Veljko Paunovic vs. ORL: first game … Adrian Heath vs. CHI: P3 W2 L0 T1