In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Ruben Tisch of The Lantern: A Chicago Fire Newsletter to learn more about Chicago Fire, New York City FC’s opponent on Decision Day tomorrow when they face off at Citi Field in the beautiful borough of Queens: Here is your NYCFC vs Chicago Fire preview.
1. It’s been rough going in Chicago
Hudson River Blue: Chicago Fire have won two of their last five matches and are coming off a 2-0 home loss to Charlotte FC. Chicago currently sit in 11th place right outside of a playoff spot because of goal difference. What’s the vibe in Chi-town these days?
Ruben Tisch: The vibe is a mixed bag.
Most of the vocal fanbase has written this season off a long time ago and while there’s still game-to-game support, there’s no real enthusiasm for anything. In fact, you could say that they’re apprehensive about making the playoffs because they’re concerned that the current front office will be retained (not an unfounded concern, especially after Tom Bogert’s reporting in The Athletic from a week ago). Georg Heitz and Sebastian Peltzer have failed to build a complete roster for the entire time they’ve been here and the fanbase wants them gone, especially now that there will be a new head coach coming into the club for next season.
However, the fanbase is also starved for postseason football. The last time the club made the playoffs it was because the stars aligned for David Accam and Nemanja Nikolic in 2017, and since then it’s been a lot of mediocre to bad seasons hanging around in the mid-bottom of the table.
Make no mistake, if they do beat NYCFC and fall into hosting the play-in-game, the fanbase is going to go bananas. But like I said, it’s rough here.
2. A lack of discipline
HRB: Chicago has been shown a league-leading six red cards this season and averages 11.6 fouls per match. What is the reason for Chicago’s physical style of play?
RT: Despite the foul numbers, they’re not really that physical a team. They don’t really have a destroyer type in the double pivot. They’d rather finesse turnovers and get out on the break instead of being physical.
What they are, however, is undisciplined. They will make bad tackles at bad moments and give away cheap free kicks. They chirp at the ref a lot and will get booked for dissent. They will make stupid decisions and will get cards trying to make a hustle play.
This has been a problem for as long as this coaching staff has been part of the club, including Ezra Hendrickson’s time as manager. It’s something they’ve played around and had to overcome throughout the year. If they don’t do dumb things they’ll win the game.
3. Brian Gutiérrez is dangerous
HRB: Loanee winger Maren Haile-Selassie has six goals and three assists this season, while striker Kei Kamara 5 goals. Who else should NYCFC be worried about on Saturday?
RT: There’s always a chance Xherdan Shaqiri pops off, obviously. But the real answer here is Brian Gutiérrez. If he’s 100% after coming back from the US Olympic Team camp, he’s the Fire’s most dangerous player. He’s the first Fire player to hit double-digit assists in a long time and his finishing has gotten slightly better as the season has gone on. What makes him dangerous is his vision and ability to place the pass exactly where it needs to be. He’s one of the best young players in the league, #5 in the MLS 22 under 22 list, and is the reason the Fire are even in this position to begin with.
The other player to watch is the other Fire player on the Olympic roster, Chris Brady. There’s discussion about him having a higher ceiling than Gaga Slonina and that’s evident when you watch him play. He’s a big imposing figure for a 19-year-old, and he commands his box better than Slonina did. He’s also just as good a shot-stopper as Gaga was and will prevent at least 2 sure NYCFC goals from going in this weekend.
4. The X-Factor: Citi Field
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide this game?
RT: The pitch size. For the first time the Fire feels like a team that can take advantage of how short and narrow the field is. They don’t really have any wide players at the moment, so they’re used to playing in close narrow spaces. And the faster the tempo of the game, the better the team plays. This could be the year the Fire finally win in a New York baseball stadium.
Starting XI Final Score
HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?
SK: I’m not going to give you my starting XI for free: You can find it on The Lantern. But I will say that I expect Gutiérrez and Shaqiri to both start.
I also think the Fire are going to win and miss the playoffs: 2-1 final score.