The Impact returns home this Saturday to take on the Chicago Fire at 7:30pm EDT (TVA Sports, 98,5fm & TSN Radio 690) in the first of two games in five days at Stade Saputo. Here are 10 things to know about the opponent for this week-end.
This looks like another season to forget in Chicago. With 19 points in 22 games, the Fire, which hasn’t won on the road in two years, is stuck at the very bottom of the MLS Supporters’ Shield Standings, eight points from a postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. The team has only clinched four wins this season, and the last occurred on July 13 (1-0 against Sporting Kansas City). Since then, Veljko Paunovic’s team has suffered three losses, managed two ties and lost a U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against New England. Goals have been few and far between for the Fire, with just one goal scored per game. But the front office acquired two forwards in August: the Armenian David Arshakyan, from Lithuania’s FK Trakai, and the Argentinean Luis Solignac, from the Colorado Rapids.
Current form (MLS & U.S. Open Cup)
Veljko Paunovic (4-11-7 all-time as Chicago Fire head coach) became the team's head coach on November 24, 2015, after leading Serbia to a U20 World Cup title last June. The Fire job is Paunovic’s very first at club level, but the Serbian coach did get acquainted with MLS in 2011, when he played 17 games for the Philadelphia Union before retiring. Pauno, who plied his trade at Partizan Belgrade, Atlético Madrid, Hannover and Rubin Kazan, among other clubs, has been tasked with making the Fire a ball-playing and proactive team – but mostly, he has to bring results: the club has only made the MLS Cup Playoffs once in the past six seasons. While this slump looks like it may keep going, the Fire brass is ready to let Paunovic prove himself.
Current top scorer
David Accam (5)
Players to watch
1. Razvan Cocis (#30) – One of Paunovic's go-to assets, able to adapt to the several changes in tactical formation.
2. Johan Kappelhof (#4) – A product of the famous Ajax youth system, Kappelhof already acts as a leader at the heart of the Fire defence.
3. Matt Polster (#2) – If Paunovic is to get his team to build play out of the back, Polster looks set to become that first outlet in front of the backline.
The Fire has put the emphasis on defence. The team is set up in a low block, leaves the ball to the opponent and uses its forwards’ pace, especially on the left with Accam, to exploit disorganized defences – that was the case earlier this season, at the very least. While the Fire does post the third-best defensive record in the Eastern Conference, its attack is the least efficient in all of MLS, with 22 goals in as many games. The Fire is still looking to exploit the flank where Accam plays, and crosses from the left can be productive. But this search for the left side is very direct, with long balls upfield and midfielders trying to win second balls to then play it wide. The Fire’s lack of an aerial threat is hurting its play, however, and the individual skills of Igboananike (gone to D.C. United) or Accam – him again – have to be called upon. Defensively, the Fire encourages the opponent to play in its half. If the opponent attacks down the side defended by Ramos, who has been solid this season, then the Fire is usually fine. But defending down the middle remains a problem, and swift passing combinations can unlock that defence. The young Fire defence is also prone to costly mistakes, which have too often translated into goals conceded.
Veljko Paunovic scrambled his deck in the early part of the season, switching between a three- or four-man backline and a one- or two-man frontline. He seemed to have settled on 4-2-3-1, but three centre backs took on Orlando City SC on Sunday – then again, 4-2-3-1 returned during the game. Lineup v. Orlando (August 14): Johnson; Gehrig, Campbell, Kappelhof; Polster, Thiam, Cocis, Vincent; Goossens; de Leeuw, Accam.
Most recent games against the Impact
The most recent Impact win against the Fire, recorded last April thanks to a last-gasp Nacho Piatti golazo, followed the trend from last season, when the three games between the two teams stirred the full range of emotions within the Montreal fanbase. There was rage at first, on May 30, when a 10-man Impact lost 3-0 in Chicago. Then, there was euphoria on September 5: on his first start, Didier Drogba scored a hat-trick in a crazy 4-3 win. Then, there was anxiety on September 23 at the Impact let slip a 1-0 lead (Drogba had scored, again) early in the second half before Andrés Romero tallied the late winner, 14 minutes from full time.
Injuries, absences and call-ups (as of August 18)
D João Meira (hamstring)
Chicago Fire v. LA Galaxy (MLS, August 24)
D.C. United v. Chicago Fire (MLS, August 27)
Chicago Fire v. Philadelphia Union (MLS, September 3)