10things_CHI

10 things on Chicago Fire

The break may be over, but the Impact’s going international anyway. The Bleu-blanc-noir goes south of the border to take on the Chicago Fire this Saturday, April 1, at 3pm EDT (TVA Sports, CTV, 985sports.ca & TSN Radio 690). Here are 10 things to know about the tenants of Toyota Park.

Context

The Fire got off to a decent start, drawing 1-1 at Columbus Crew SC before winning 2-0 at home to Real Salt Lake. But on its next away date, the Fire suffered a heavy 4-0 loss at Atlanta after going down to 10 men as early as the 11th minute, as defender Johan Kappelhof saw red. But three days later, the team had moved on: some guy named Bastian Schweinsteiger, a world champion with Germany, signed with the Fire – and he could make his MLS debut against the Impact this Saturday…

Current form (preseason and regular season)

W-W-W-D-W-L

Head coach

Veljko Paunovic (8-18-11 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 in 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 seven seasons.

Current top scorer

Arturo Álvarez, David Accam & Nemanja Nikolic (1)

Players to watch

1. Dax McCarty (#6) – McCarty leaving the New York Red Bulls took the entire MLS family by surprise. But the Fire did need that kind of safety net.

2. Michael de Leeuw (#8) – Since joining MLS, de Leeuw’s been scoring at the respectable rate of one goal every three games.

3. David Accam (#11) – Status of speed on the left flank: breakneck.

Team profile

Here is what Impact Media wrote on August 18, 2016: “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 [right] side, [which] 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.”

In 2016:

Shots on target*

Goals scored from inside the penalty area

Goals scored from outside the penalty area

Goals scored on headers

20th (125)

14th (36)

10th (6)

15th (6)

Possession (%)

Big chance conversion (%)

Successful passes in attacking third (%)

Duels won (%)

20th (43.6%)

11th (47.2%)

20th (57.2%)

13th (49.4%)

*Source for all data is Opta

In 2017:

Shots on target*

Goals scored from inside the penalty area

Goals scored from outside the penalty area

Goals scored on headers

12th (10)

16th (2)

2nd (1)

13th (0)

Possession (%)

Big chance conversion (%)

Successful passes in attacking third (%)

Duels won (%)

22nd (33.9%)

1st (100%)

12th (62.7%)

5th (53%)

*Source for all data is Opta

Tactical formation

With Juninho and Dax McCarty joining the Fire this offseason, Veljko Paunovic has played a midfield three thus far. Lineup v. Atlanta (March 18): Bava; Harrington, Kappelhof, Meira, Vincent; Álvarez, McCarty, Juninho, Accam; Nikolic; Solignac.

Most recent games against the Impact

Both teams picked up away wins against each other last season. The Impact’s most recent trip to the Fire’s home, last April 16, yielded a Nacho Piatti golazo in stoppage time. Dominic Oduro, with two assists, also helped the Bleu-blanc-noir to its first-ever win in Chicago.

Injuries, absences and call-ups (as of March 29)

D Johan Kappelhof (suspended)
M Matt Polster (knee)
M John Goossens (ankle)
F David Arshakyan (thigh)

Next games

Chicago Fire v Columbus Crew SC (MLS, April 8)
Chicago Fire v New England Revolution (MLS, April 15)
Toronto FC v Chicago Fire (MLS, April 21)

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