Chicago Fire return home aiming to bounce back against NYCFC

The Chicago Fire face New York City FC for the second time in the 2019 MLS season on Saturday, May 25. (Chicago Fire Soccer Club)

By Ernesto Hernandez

The Chicago Fire are hoping for some home cooking when they take on New York City FC at SeatGeek Stadium. The club is coming off a more than disappointing 4-1 loss against the San Jose Earthquakes which saw Chris Wondolowski score four times and break the record for most career goals in MLS.

The last time these two teams met was a few weeks back in New York, where NYCFC came away with a 1-0 victory in a game that saw the Fire have no shots on target and get done on a counter. Chicago will be looking to make up for that loss.

It is a crucial game for two sides looking to stay in contention for a playoff spot. NYCFC are currently in sixth place, two points in front of the ninth-place Fire. But a win for Chicago would see them leapfrog New York and, depending on other results, be right in the hunt for a playoff spot.

But it won’t be an easy game as the Fire are still without Nico Gaitán, who is suffering from a thigh injury. The club has yet to give an update on how long the Argentine will be sidelined but head coach Veljko Paunovic did say he was going to miss some games in his press conference after he got injured.

What to watch for
The return of Bastian Schweinsteiger

Basti’s back! The return of the German is some much-needed good news for a team that shipped four goals to Chris Wondolowski their last time out. The defense looked like a shell of their former selves without Schweinsteiger calling the shots. With him back, expect to see Kappelhof, Schweinsteiger, and Calvo as the backline with Marcelo on the bench.

Marcelo looked rusty in his return and it was to be expected. What no one counted on was the other two also having a form dip. Having Schweinsteiger back can only be good for that defense. The presence of a leader and someone who has an ability to anticipate and read the field in front of him will help the other two center backs in cutting down attacks. He’s played like an all-star as a center back and the Fire desperately missed him last week.

Who will lead the front line?

The striker position is not one that many would have questioned going into the season but it’s one that has been questioned as the season’s progressed. Nemanja Nikolic has made that position his own and has been a reliable and effective striker. But he’s been very inconsistent this season and that has come back to bite the team.

In the loss against San Jose, Nikolic had two clear opportunities to level the game for the Fire but missed. What was even more surprising is down by two, he was subbed off early in the second half of that game.

Despite leading the team with five goals, it has taken him a couple of chances for him to score. Even in the games where he’s had a brace, he could have had more if his shots were on target. While he isn’t in any real danger of being relegated to the bench, another performance like the one last week may have Paunovic looking at other options. Those options may be playing CJ Sapong as the lone striker or Fabian Herbers, who has not played a lot because of injury.

The Fire need Nikolic to be more consistent. At home, they are able to create more chances so perhaps that may not be so much of an issue. But on the road, where chances are scarce, their striker needs to be able to put some of those away.

Continuing a run of good form at home

Despite struggling at home early on, the Fire have managed to turn things around and started to take advantage of their games at home. Chicago has won three straight games at home and have not lost at SeatGeek stadium since their game versus Seattle back in mid-April. This latest run at home has been their best run since August of 2017.

On the other hand, NYCFC have only lost one of their last six road games. In fact, New York are heading into the game having won four out of their last five matches including back-to-back road victories against the Montreal Impact and Los Angeles Galaxy, respectively.

Arguably, this is their first true test against a good team at home since the Sounders game. The Fire eased past Colorado, New England, and Minnesota in their recent home games. NYCFC will serve as a measuring stick to determine where this team is currently at.


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