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Breaking down Chicago Fire FC's MLS is Back group stage matchups

Win the group.

That will be Raphael Wicky and his squad's goal for the first two weeks of the MLS is Back Tournament when it kicks off July 8 in Orlando.

Chicago Fire FC was drawn into Group A, the lone six-team group, alongside a mixed field including recent MLS Cup contenders as well as league newcomers.

The Fire won't face hosts Orlando City SC or Philadelphia Union due to the two extra teams in Group A, but each side will have at least a 50 percent chance of advancing to the Round of 16. The top three finishers will automatically make it out of the group stage, while the fourth-place side will have a chance at securing one of three wild card spots. 

Moreover, all three group game results will count toward the 2020 regular season, which MLS intends to resume later this summer following the conclusion of the tournament. 

As we look ahead to the World Cup-style restart, here's a quick preview for each of Chicago's group stage matchups:

Wednesday, July 8 vs. Nashville SC | 9:30 p.m. CT | ESPN

The Fire were not originally scheduled to play Nashville in 2020, but with the MLS is Back Tournament came a slight realignment as the expansion side switched from the Western to the Eastern Conference to avoid odd numbers when dividing the conferences. The two teams did, however, face off earlier this year in preseason play, when Chicago handed Nashville a 3-1 defeat in Tampa. CJ Sapong, Robert Berić, and Elliot Collier each scored that day in a match that saw both sides rotate in many regulars. 

One familiar face the Fire will likely contend with on July 8 is former Chicago captain Dax McCarty, who now captains Nashville. 

“I’m obviously excited to play against my former club,” McCarty told NashvilleSC.com. “Going from assuming that we werent playing them at all this year because we were in the West and now playing them in this tournament because were in the East, I think that is just a perfect microcosm of just what this whole year in 2020 has been like. Just complete unpredictability across the board.”

Before the season came to a halt in March, Nashville began its debut campaign with a 2-1 loss against Atlanta United in Week 1 and a 1-0 loss at the Portland Timbers in Week 2.

Tuesday, July 14 vs. Inter Miami CF | 8:00 a.m. CT | ESPN

Like the Fire, Inter Miami began its season with two road games before play was suspended in March. Miami emerged with zero points but with plenty of positives from the two narrow defeats.

The expansion club pushed Supporters’ Shield holders LAFC to the brink in a 1-0 result in Southern California, then jumped out to a 1-0 advantage against DC United a week later before eventually falling 2-1.

Star designated player Rodolfo Pizarro made an early impact for his new club with a goal in Week 2, and David Beckham's roster also features the likes of MLS veterans Román Torres, Luis Robles, and Wil Trapp. 

Miami also opens its tournament on July 8 against Florida rival Orlando in the first match of the competition, so both teams will come into this early-morning clash on equal rest.

Sunday, July 19 vs. New York City FC | 7:00 p.m. CT | FS1

The Fire conclude the group stage with likely their toughest matchup on paper, taking on last year's Eastern Conference point-leaders NYCFC. The team brought back all of its biggest contributors from a year ago, making them arguably the most cohesive side in the league.

Maxi Moralez, Heber, and Alexander Ring lead the way for NYCFC, which was boosted by the arrival of Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Acevedo. Like the Fire, NYCFC has a new manager in charge in Ronny Deila, a 44-year-old Norwegian with title-winning experience both in his home country and in Scotland with Celtic.

The perennial contenders will enter MLS is Back motivated to get back on the right foot after their 2020 began with a pair of tough 1-0 losses while also competing in Concacaf Champions League play. NYCFC played 87 minutes down a man at Columbus, then were nine minutes away from a draw at Toronto’s BMO Field before conceding the winner.

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