We are halfway through the MLS season and things are looking bleak for the Chicago Fire. After a shock loss to Saint Louis FC in the Open Cup, the team return home to face Real Salt Lake in what is, for all intents and purposes, a must win game.
The Fire entered this season with hope and elevated expectations. On paper, the club had identified and filled the holes that plagued them last season. Despite some departures and retirements, the team had promise. Add in the arrival of playmaker, Nico Gaitan, the Fire should have been up and running. It’s been everything but the case.
Since going on a short winning streak by beating New England and Minnesota United, the Fire have gone five straight games without a win. Their last MLS game was a dismal loss to Atlanta United in which Dax McCarty called for the team to take a look in the mirror because the performances weren’t good enough. Based on the loss to Saint Louis, his call to action did not work.
Against Real Salt Lake, the Fire need to win not to only quell the negativity surrounding the team at the moment but because if they don’t, claiming an MLS playoff spot is going to become a daunting task. The Fire currently sit in ninth place, one point back of the final playoff spot but having played one more game than Toronto FC, the team in front of them.
Real Salt Lake have won four out of the last five games these teams played with the Fire’s lone win coming at home back in 2017. All of the Fire’s four league wins this season have come at home. For their sake, that trend will need to continue or they could soon be waving goodbye to the 2019 season.
Keys to the game
- The Fire need to come out strong and try to quickly erase the debacle that was the Saint Louis loss. That means they need to score early to get that pressure off their back and for the sake of confidence.
- Tying back to the first key, Real Salt Lake have given up 27 goals this season which ties them for third-worst in the Western Conference. The Fire should have enough firepower, pardon the pun, going forward to cause them damage.
- Consistency. Not simply in terms of the team’s performance throughout the 90 minutes but in the line-up as well. Manager Veljko Paunovic likes to tinker with his starting eleven but sometimes having the players settle into a routine and know if they’re playing or not is a good thing.