A busy week is begins on Saturday night for the Chicago Fire, who head to Florida for an Eastern Conference contest against a rejuvenated Orlando City side at Exploria Stadium (6:30 p.m. CT | WGN, ESPN+).
Saturday’s match kicks off the second wave of regular season matches announced by the league, which has the Fire playing three times over the course of the ensuing eight days. After Orlando, they’ll return to Soldier Field for back-to-back matches against the Houston Dynamo (Weds., Sept. 23) and Atlanta United (Sun., Sept. 27).
With the Fire aiming to climb above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, head coach Raphael Wicky is focused on maximizing the team’s wall-to-wall week ahead.
“It is very important, obviously” he told media on Friday. “It is very important that we now transform our, so far, good performances. At least New England was a good performance. I think Columbus was a good performance, a very good performance in a lot of ways that we now get points out of, that we actually reward ourselves and get points.”
Chicago wrapped up what was dubbed “phase one” of the return to regular season play with last weekend’s 2-2 home draw against Columbus, capping a six-game slate of matches that followed the MLS is Back Tournament in July and August.
Coming at ya fast ⚡️— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) September 18, 2020
3 games in 8 days begins tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/gze9zmdiAg
The Fire no doubt feel like they left a big opportunity on the table against Crew SC, having scored twice on a stingy defensive side that had only conceded two goals total in their 10 regular season matches prior. A point is a point to be sure, but -- after the equalizer was conceded in the 89th minute -- Wicky made clear that his side needs to start maintaining leads and taking full points consistently with their Orlando trip on deck.
“We didn't kill the game,” he said. “They were obviously pushing forward and put another tall striker in, which means they will push forward, maybe with long balls, and then you need to manage the game and actually say, okay, then we going to take a 2-1 victory home and going to fight now for every single ball and not going to concede anything. Those are the little moments where I think we have to get more mature and we have to be better in managing the games.”
“It's a mix of everything,” he added. “There's not only one topic where we need to be better, but like I said, there's a lot of good things. We created against a leader of the whole league, so many big, big chances, and we should have won that game. But yeah, those are the points we have to get better.”
Saturday’s opponent enters the match as one of the hottest teams in the league, currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and unbeaten in five straight. While the Fire are two points outside the playoff picture at the moment, midfielder Ignacio Aliseda remains confident in the direction he and his teammates are going.
“I really don't like to look at the standings,” midfielder Ignacio Aliseda said Friday via a translator. “I’ve never liked it. And not because we are doing poorly, but I just never really liked it because it feels like sometimes you know that you're doing things the right way or you're doing things correctly but you are not where you would like to be.”
“It doesn't feel very good to be that low, but I think that together, united as a group, we are going to get out of that place. We are going to go higher.”
While the Fire have never lost on the road against Orlando dating back to their inaugural season in 2015, they’re aware of the challenge presented by new head coach Oscar Pareja and his side and hold firm in their belief that they’re on the right path towards the postseason.
“I think as (Wicky) said, we are getting closer,” Aliseda said. “We are on the right path, so we just have to keep going and keep following that path and doing the right things. I think that in a game, once we get goals like the ones we got against Columbus, you know, getting those goals was great, and now we just have to work on keeping the score against us at zero. But I think once we are able to do those things and keep things on our side, we'll keep going.”
A win against Orlando on Saturday is an ideal start to a hectic week ahead, and would be a big step towards the team’s postseason aspirations.
“There is a very important week coming up, and I think this week, we did a good job training,” Aliseda said. “We trained well, and so now we're starting tomorrow and we have to go out there and win, and basically our idea is always to go out and win, wherever we are, wherever we go. When we start off tomorrow, we're going to go out there to win, and I think that's going to start an ascension and we are going to start going up from there.”