Fire Look to Get Back in the Hunt with New England Road Test

Jonathan Daniel – Getty Images

Jonathan Daniel – Getty Images

The Chicago Fire head to Foxborough, Mass. on Saturday to face the New England Revolution in a crucial Eastern Conference matchup. Chicago will be looking to rebound after a heartbreaking loss last week to Orlando City SC, when the Fire gave up two late goals at home after impressively going up 2-1 in the second half.

Manager Frank Yallop and company will be taking on one of the stronger sides in MLS so far this season, as the Revolution now sit at second place in the East with 21 points. Also, New England is on a notable unbeaten streak at home, with its last home loss coming nearly a year ago on July 26, 2014.

Impressive as that may be, New England is currently in somewhat of a slump. This could be a good opportunity for the Fire to steal some points on the road, as the Revolution are now winless in its last six matches going back to early May. Depending on results throughout the league this weekend, a Chicago win could be good enough for sixth place and the final playoff spot in the east, despite currently sitting at 9th with 14 points.

While the Men In Red have had some unsavory results lately, they’ve inspired some reason for hope as well. Most notably, the Fire attack has produced ten goals in the last five matches, which is the best five-game-stretch of scoring the club has had in over a year. It’s a major turn-around for a team that set the league record for ties last season, and produced only seven goals in the first eight matches of 2015.

But a positive result won’t come easily Saturday. Frank Yallop and his staff will once again be forced to shuffle the lineup, as the Fire will be missing key starters Joevin Jones, David Accam and Shaun Maloney on international duty. These three have been some of the most impactful players for Chicago this season.

Accam is tied for first in team goals with four this season, and based on my view from the press box, I’m convinced that he could easily be the fastest player in MLS. It’s been exciting to watch him bolt by defenders in Messi-like fashion recently. Meanwhile, Maloney has quickly turned into an instrumental piece in the attacking midfield to play alongside Harry Shipp. And Joevin Jones has undeniably been one of the club’s best offseason signings, as the Trinidadian has demonstrated a consistency and versatility at left back and left wing interchangeably this season (sometimes within the same match). Getting a result without them will require something special.

Perhaps Quincy Amarikwa will find his shot and produce a breakout game. He’s yet to open his scoring account in 2015, but the young striker leads the club with 31 shots. That’s no surprise given his bullish nature in attack, constantly working and fighting to win possession and create chances. If he’s in the starting 11 Saturday, he’ll have some options in attack alongside Harry Shipp and Kennedy Igboananike, so I’d be surprised if the Fire could’t find at least a goal or two this weekend. It’s the defending that’s been troublesome lately.

After last Saturday’s disappointment against Orlando, Frank Yallop called out his entire team collectively for an undetermined defensive effort, particularly in the final 20 minutes of the match. I’m interested to see the performance and leadership of central defender and team captain Jeff Larentowicz, as he returns to New England to take on his former club of five years. Larentowicz helped the Revolution reach three consecutive MLS Cup Finals during his tenure.

Both teams are starved for a win, so I expect this to be an open game with plenty of scoring chances. And if Chicago can cash in on some of those chances, maybe it can find a way to protect the lead and secure a much-needed victory on the road. Kickoff at Gillette Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT. (CSN Chicago)