The Fire are headed back to Florida this weekend, this time to take on Orlando City SC.
Head coach Raphael Wicky and Co. travel to the sunshine state on Saturday for another Eastern Conference clash following their draw against Columbus a week ago.
OCSC has been one of the surprises of 2020 after getting to the final of the MLS is Back Tournament, and are currently sitting in fourth place in the East.
A TEAM REBORN
Outside of head coach Oscar Pareja’s hiring, there is not a lot new about this Orlando City team from last season.
Their core from 2019 has remained but the influence and leadership of Pareja has clearly set in and given them a renewed sense of purpose and execution.
They are 3-0-2 in their last five matches. After the loss to Portland in the tournament final and a subsequent loss to in-state rivals Inter Miami, they’ve looked very strong.
The addition of Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese has kept them in games they’d usually drop, and the attack has been more potent than we’ve seen in recent years.
BALANCE IN ATTACK
The Orlando front four, in my mind, is sort of the quintessential MLS front line.
You have a young, eager and mobile American in Chris Mueller out on the wing who is willing to put in the work and make intelligent runs off the ball. The Schaumburg, IL native has enjoyed his best offensive year as a pro thus far (six goals, three assists) and we’re only about halfway through the schedule.
Mauricio Pereyra pulls the strings in the pocket as the No. 10, and is capable of breaking lines with a pass or finishing off a move. A lot of the great “10s” in this league have South American roots including the Fire’s young Designated Player Ignacio Aliseda. Pereyra, like Mueller, has been very good under Oscar Pareja and seems to be enjoying himself in the final third.
An athletic, physical and goal-hungry No, 9 leads the charge in Daryl Dike. The Virginia product and fifth-overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft has emerged as the go-to selection at the tip of the 4-2-3-1. In his first three starts as a pro, he gathered three goals and two assists and was named the MLS player of the month in August. He is still refining his turning ability and hold up play, but his presence in the penalty area and finishing ability has been on full display.
And then, of course, there is your former European star and headline-grabber, Nani, who brings it all together. The four-time Premier League winner and student under Sir Alex Ferguson offers that game-changing magic that every team in MLS longs for.
We saw the greatest display of this intangible quality in the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament against Minnesota United. A ridiculous first touch out of the air and finish under pressure for one goal, and then a beautifully crafted curler from 18 yards out for a second. He took over the game in two plays. His best years may be behind him, but he has shown us his best in glimpses and it can be scary for an opposition.
This is all to say that Chicago will have their hands full at every turn and it will require a collective defensive performance against a side that has only been held scoreless in one match so far this season.
THERE WILL BE GOALS
While Orlando has been clicking offensively, they have only kept one clean sheet this season - a 1-0 win against Montreal.
They’ve had some injury issues as of late. Left centerback Robin Jansson missed their most recent match, and exciting, young left-back João Moutinho came off against Atlanta United on Aug. 29 and has missed the last three matches.
Kamal Miller and Kyle Smith have filled in at outside back while Rodrigo Schlegel has been stepping in for Jansson. Jansson, according to Pareja, should be available on Saturday while Moutinho is still working his way back.
For all of the praise that Orlando has received in the attacking third, there are still some screws that need some tightening along the back line. Chicago, despite being on the road and going up against a side that has mustered up some solid results, will have their moments to punish Orlando.
Robert Berić getting back on the scoresheet with some confidence is big. Getting CJ Sapong back and match fit is also very important. The more options available to Wicky throughout the course of the 90 minutes, the better.
While a point against the first-place Crew might seem like a small victory, the Fire will admit they let one slip through their grasp.
There were points and goals left on the pitch. We saw a great response from the Fire for about 80 minutes following the loss to New England. Given the nature of last weekend’s fixture, I think we will see a similar sort of response against Orlando.
Like their strategy against Columbus, it will come down to capitalizing on chances and making Orlando’s front four defend.
This is the start of another three-game sprint in eight days. With some added time to prepare, Chicago will be fresh and hungry.