From here on out, every game is going to be a must win game for the Chicago Fire until they can provide some sort of consistency on the field. That will be the case when they go on the road to take on the New York Red Bulls.
The Fire are coming off a disappointing draw at home versus Real Salt Lake where a penalty was the one of the few -if not only- goal-scoring opportunities for the visiting team.
Chicago are in the midst of a six-game winless streak including an elimination from the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. The game against RSL was supposed to be a reaction game to right the course but it proved anything but.
Against the Red Bulls, the Fire will be facing an opponent from their own conference and provides them an opportunity to climb up in the standings and reach for a playoff spot. These two sides met earlier in the season with the Fire coming out on top, at home, thanks to an own goal.
This game will take place in New York and the Fire’s struggles on the road are well documented. They still have yet to win an away game this season and is one of the reasons they stand where they stand halfway through the season.
As far as absences are concerned, Djordje Mihailovic and Francisco Calvo are still on international duty and Johan Kappelhof remains questionable. For the home side, they will be without Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo. A huge boost in the Fire’s favor depends on the availability of Bradley Wright-Phillips. Despite having a down year, him being questionable and perhaps missing the game is a blow to the Red Bulls.
With regards to the line-up expect roughly the same starting XI with the only question being whether CJ Sapong or Nemanja Nikolic starts up front. The latter started the previous game but has had trouble putting away chances despite being one of the team leaders in that department.
Also expect Brandt Bronico to be given another go at right back. With Kappelhof remaining a doubt and the performance he gave against RSL, Bronico has earned another chance at that spot. Paunovic was impressed with him and like he said, it’s a position the team are struggling with at the moment and have limited options.
Keys to the game
The three C’s:
Consistency, concentration, conversion.
The Fire need to be consistent if they want to make the postseason both on and off the field. They need to string together complete, or close to, performances. We’ve seen games where we see the potential this team has and then lay an egg the following game. The line-ups also need to be more consistent. Constantly tinkering means players cannot get into a rhythm and for a team with a lot of signings coming into the season, it shows.
Along with consistency, the team needs to be concentrated. A theme of the Paunovic era has been the team switching off at certain moments of the game. The handball penalty was the latest example. The Fire were in complete control of that game until the penalty. They were stifling RSL and looked on the verge of adding to their lead. Lapses in concentration, especially defensively have hurt this team all season. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, this team needs to stop making these errors.
One thing the Fire have done well despite their current bad run of form is, for the most part, they have created goal-scoring opportunities. Converting them, however, has been a whole different story. Nemanja Nikolic has struggled in that area during key moments of the game. Chicago is lacking that killer instinct in the final third. Dax McCarty made that point after the last game where he reference their game against Atlanta United. Joser Martinez had two opportunities and converted them both.
Failing to convert not only negatively impacts your team, it also gives the opponent a new life. Far too often we’ve seen the Fire let a team off the hook only for that team to equalize or take a lead and take over the game.
The law of averages says that at some point the Fire will win a game on the road. Well, there’s no better time like the present.