The injury bug has not been kind to head coach Raphael Wicky and his staff so far in 2021.
Two games into the new campaign, the second-year manager has had to navigate a slew of early season absences across just about every position group.
Ahead of the team's next matchup -- this Saturday's 12 p.m. CT kickoff at the New York Red Bulls -- midfielder Elliott Collier (left ankle) and defender Carlos Terán (left thigh) remain questionable, while defender Miguel Navarro (right ankle), midfielders Ignacio Aliseda (left thigh), Fabian Herbers (right knee) and Stanislav Ivanov (left knee), and goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm (right knee) all remain listed as “out” on the injury report.
While there’s no doubt the situation has presented a challenge for his group, Wicky declined to lean on it as an excuse following Wednesday’s training session at SeatGeek Stadium.
“Look, it's not what you want,” he said. “It's not what you wish, obviously. I told you from the beginning I'm very happy with the roster when everyone is there. We have a very good and very competitive roster. With all these injuries obviously that hurts a bit, but it doesn't make sense if I complain every day or think about it every day. I try to work with the players that we have. I hope the other guys come back as soon as possible so that the competition within the team gets more and more again.”
Despite the injuries to the attacking unit in particular, the Fire haven’t seen a lapse in opportunities to score so far. According to Opta, the Fire’s 27 chances created through two matches played are the third-highest total in the league, and have led to 12 shots on target -- tied for the league's fourth-highest total.
Midfielder Przemsyław Frankowski -- who also spoke during Wednesday’s media availability -- has created four of those chances, and is confident the attack will be even stronger as his injured teammates work their way back into the mix.
“No doubt that injuries really make it difficult for us,” Frankowski said, via a translator. “We are really looking forward to our boys coming back from the injury list. There's no doubt that this is a good offensive team.”
The Fire enter Saturday’s contest in New York coming out of a 3-1 defeat in Atlanta over the weekend - their first test away from home of the 2021 regular season. Midfielder Luka Stojanović temporarily negated Ezeqiel Barco’s first-half finish with a goal of his own - his second of the season - but a pair of second-half goals ultimately helped the hosts claim all three points.
“This will end at one point,” Wicky said. “We’re just going to keep working and go to away games, and we always go into a game with the mentality of winning as you saw in a lot of games because we're not just bunkering, we're actually trying to play our game. We're actually creating. We are actually trying to press. So, we just need to keep doing that, and we will be rewarded. I believe in that. But we're trying not to talk about it with the team. It doesn't make sense for me.”
The Red Bulls enter Saturday’s match as the only team yet to earn a point in the Eastern Conference in 2021. New head coach Gerhard Struber and his side fell 2-1 to Sporting Kansas City at home in their season opener on April 17, before being sunk by a Chicharito hat trick in a 3-2 defeat at the LA Galaxy last weekend.
As a result, Saturday’s matchup in Harrison presents a big opportunity for both teams to claim their first win of the young season.
“We know what to expect in this game,” Wicky said. “This is going to be again, another physical game against an opponent who has a clear philosophy, how they play, they prepare for that. We know what we will face in New York, so I don't think they (will) change anything because they have two losses. They will keep playing the way they play. That's my conviction.”
“This coming Saturday is a good chance for us, but generally we know that bringing the three points for wins outside Chicago is something we are looking forward to,” Frankowski added. “Even if we don't win all of them immediately, getting some points while playing away will be a good start…Really this is something very much on our mind.”
Saturday’s match against the Red Bulls kicks off at 12 p.m. CT, with coverage available locally on WGN-TV, CFFC Live, and TUDN 1200 AM as well as on Major League Soccer’s out-of-market package on ESPN+.