Chicago Fire vs. Minnesota United FC
Soldier Field | Chicago, Illinois
4.8.2023 | MLS Week No. 7 | MLS Game 6
7:30 p.m. CT (AppleTV - Free)
Hello, fellow waterfowl enthusiasts. Let’s take a minute to savor last week’s massive win over St. Louis CITY SC…(pause to savor)...that was nice, right? But now, it’s onto the next one. That one being primetime drama and actual historical event, the Chicago Fire (1-1-3). They enter into this matchup coming off of a 0-0 draw with DC United, but Chicago is a plucky opponent that is more than capable of finding the net and keeping MNUFC on its toes. It will be a good test for the Loons, and here are a few ways to better the circumstances of acing said test.
Run of Form: W-D-W-D-W
The Loons kept marching and remained unbeaten after a gritty, hard-fought 1-0 win over St. Louis CITY SC on Saturday. Taking down the only MLS squad to win their first five games is big, especially coming off the previous game, a last-second draw at home against Vancouver. Defensively, the combination of Michael Boxall’s leadership and Micky Tapias’s playmaking abilities continues to impress. Even in the face of late game attacks from the opposition, they, along with Kemar Lawrence, Zarek Valentin and DJ Taylor have shown that they can frustrate and force miscues in big moments. On the attack, with Luis Amarilla finding his form, the development of Ménder García, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Franco Fragapane’s speed on display, they have proven that they can be opportunistic. They have shown a knack for pouncing on miscues and making runs that have kept their opponents' defensive unit on their heels. Hopefully, the more that continues, the more goals we’ll see moving forward.
Run of Form: D-L-D-W-D
The Fire come into this Saturday’s match on the heels of a 0-0 draw with DC United. However, that scoreline isn’t indicative of their attack and its effectiveness in their recent run of form. Their previous two results, a 3-3 draw with FC Cincinnati and a 3-2 nail biter over FC Miami, are more of a true representation of how dangerous they can be with the ball. Ageless wonder Kei Kamara and winger Chris Mueller can do damage from just about anywhere on the pitch, while 6' 4'’ forward Kacper Przybyłko and his header advantage are obviously worthy of drawing attention on set pieces and crosses into the box.
Keys to the Match
While last week’s starting XI did see a majority of those previously called into international duty back in the lineup, the return of Robin Lod this week means (nearly) the whole band is back together. With him being such a big part of the Loons early-season success, it can’t be understated just how valuable Lod’s versatility is to this squad. While a case could be made for the Loons to continue using a 4-4-2 formation in light of its success so far this season, having Lod back in the mix means MNUFC can maintain at least some element of surprise when facing Chicago. Is there a lineup that works better against the Fire? Or, are they certain that Lod lines up at mid? On the wing? At striker? The beauty of versatility is that it’s a mystery, at least in this case. The other mystery for Chicago to factor in is MNUFC’s newest acquisition, attacker Sang Bin Jeong, who will make his highly-anticipated debut for the club. While it’s uncertain just how much game action he will see from him on Saturday, the South Korean international adds another dynamic to the Loons lineup that, like Robin Lod, brings versatility to the attack. Not only can he Sang Bin multiple spots on the attack, he also brings world-class speed to the party, too. Hopefully he’ll have the opportunity to show it off in his debut.
Prone To Outbursts
While Chicago may be coming off an effort without any goals to show, they’ve been quite capable of finding the back of the net this season. With Chicago registering three goals in two consecutive games prior to the draw with DC United, it’s safe to say the Loons backline can’t leave anything, or anybody, to chance. Why anybody? Well, because in terms of goals scored on the season, only forward Chris Mueller has struck more than once. After Mueller, five players stand tied at one goal a piece on the season. Obviously, goals scored doesn’t tell the whole story, but it does present the Loons defense with questions when it comes to keying in on a perennial scorer for Chicago. The boys may have to feel that out in the early minutes of the game to see who, if anyone, needs to be shadowed.
Big Game Hangover?
Momentum is a powerful thing, especially after you take down the unbeaten leaders of the Western Conference. But, that hot streak can get iced rather quickly with a loss. While the Loons have an upper hand in the momentum department, Chicago is a gutsy squad. The kind of gutsy squad that isn’t lying down for anybody, no matter how hot their streak may be. And, they’ve proven themselves a spoiler to opponents that may be above them in the standings, going goal-for-goal with their 3-3 draw against Eastern Conference-leaders, FC Cincinnati. Having everybody back from international duty, along with Sang Bin Jeong’s debut, should be helpful in that regard, but Chicago is the kind of team that won’t be intimidated, especially at home. Plus, they’re hungry to get a signature win of their own to inject some winning mojo into their own season. Hopefully, Coach Heath and the boys are more than prepared to keep the blinders on and stay the course.