Match Preview: Chicago Gets Another Shot at OCSC

Kennedy Igboananike navigates OCSC's back line - photo by Nam Y. Huh – AP

Kennedy Igboananike navigates OCSC’s back line – photo by Nam Y. Huh – AP

The Chicago Fire is coming home to Bridgeview Saturday, September 19, to host Orlando City SC, making it the fourth and final meeting between the eastern conference foes this season. The two sides are only three points apart in the league table, and should be treating Saturday’s match like a playoff game.

If a neutral observer glanced at the current MLS standings in the eastern conference, one might make the mistake of thinking the last-place Fire could actually make a playoff run. After all, Chicago is only six points off of the sixth and final playoff spot with six games to go. But, anyone remotely paying attention this season understands how far-fetched a playoff scenario is for Chicago. Look no further than the club’s recent three-match road trip as cause for doubt.

Chicago continued its losing ways away from home, gaining only one point from its latest road trip. The Men In Red were outscored eight to six in the three-game stretch, which is especially disappointing considering how few goals the Fire allowed this year. Prior to the road trip, Chicago had only allowed 22 goals all season. Perhaps a homecoming would do this struggling defense some good.

The Fire’s best results this season have come within the confines of Toyota Park, including impressive victories over the highly-ranked New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas. However, the Fire won’t soon forget when Orlando came to town June 6 this season. After going up 2-1 on visiting OCSC, Orlando came storming back late in the second half to win 3-2, sending Chicago and its supporters home with a heavy dose of heartbreak.

Forward Cyle Larin led that comeback with a curling, unforgettable goal. The standout rookie now has 11 goals on the year, and will be licking his chops on Saturday given the poor defensive effort from Chicago recently. Forward Kaká, defender Corey Ashe, and midfielder Darwin Cerén were all absent with injuries from last week’s impressive 3-1 home win over Sporting KC. It’s likely that Kaká and Ashe will miss Saturday’s action, but Cerén is expected to start at Chicago.

Both teams have firepower in attack, but both have struggled defensively throughout much of the season. The last meeting between the two sides was a low-scoring 1-1 affair, but the formula of two strong, attacking sides going up against not-so-strong defenses could result in a shoot out. It’s going to come down to what defense can dig deeper and find the clutch performance that could possibly salvage a season, and perhaps careers.

Ideal starting 11:

Fire forwards Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike are expected to be fit and ready to go Saturday. If that’s the case, the two should start up top as striking partners, with David Accam on the left wing and Patrick Nyarko on the right. Though Michael Stevens has impressed recently and throughout the season, Razvan Cocis and rookie Matt Polster should be the definitive starters at holding midfield. Cocis has demonstrated a level of toughness and consistency throughout the season that’s unmatched, and Polster’s strong rookie campaign earned him a spot on the USA U-23 Olympic Qualifier squad.

As for the recently underwhelming defense, Manager Frank Yallop needs to get back to basics when selecting his back four. In the last three matches, Yallop has started eight different defenders at the back, and the result was eight goals allowed, two losses and a draw. The back line should unquestionably feature Joevin Jones and Lovel Palmer on the wing, with Jeff Larentowicz and Eric Gehrig paired up in the middle. This hasn’t been the most reliable group in MLS by any stretch, but it’s better than throwing guys out there that haven’t seen minutes all year. Yallop started defenders Daniel Cyrus and Ty Harden last week, also known as guys that hadn’t seen starting minutes for the club in 2015. We know how that turned out.

My heart wants to forecast a Fire victory, but my logic tells me to place bets on more disappointment for Chicago. I envision a hard-fought match between two high-powered offenses and two mediocre defenses, resulting in a back-and-forth shootout, and most likely a tie. Despite the Fire’s desperate need for three points, I predict a 2-2 draw.

The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park on Saturday, September 19, on CSN Chicago Plus. It’s the only home game for Chicago in the month of September.

What are your predictions for Saturday’s match? And what are your picks for Chicago’s starting 11 against Orlando?