Published on March 10th, 2017 | by Ryan Voyles0
Chicago Fire vs Real Salt Lake Preview
If the playoffs were to start today, the Chicago Fire would have a home match!
I know, it’s way too early to be thinking about playoff positioning. But after the past few seasons, it’s nice to take a moment and look at the Fire standing near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Go ahead, take a look. It’s nice, right?
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to get excited about the Fire’s home opener. While not much to get excited about in the forecast (high of 27 Saturday afternoon), the home opener is always a great time to turn the unpaved lots of Toyota Park into a huge outdoor party as fans chat about whether this is the year the team stops breaking all of our hearts as though love is some kind of sick game to them.
To welcome the Fire back home is Real Salt Lake, and both sides will be looking for their first win of the young season, as both drew in their opening matches. The Fire played a quality 45 minutes (in a 90 minute match) en route to a 1-1 draw in Columbus; while Real Salt Lake put on a full assault against Toronto FC’s backline… en route to a 0-0 draw. Though they didn’t score, RSL had 19 shots against the defending Eastern Conference champions and looked dangerous throughout the match. In the back, goalkeeper Nick Rimando did Nick Rimando things and made a huge penalty save against former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco.
The Fire is certainly going to want to give their fans something to root about when they take the field Saturday afternoon. A draw on the road last week was an acceptable result, but a win at home against a mid-tier Western Conference foe would go far to convince fans that perhaps this season is finally different. A team with playoff aspirations cannot lose a game like this, and a fan base that has been through fandom hell needs something to latch on to bring relevance back to Bridgeview.
And now, let’s take a look at some things to watch for this weekend.
Juninho Is Back
After a last-minute suspension dating back to his time with Club Tijuana, Juninho is free to take the field for his regular season debut with the Chicago Fire. The Brazilian midfielder was one of the big offseason acquisitions for the club and was one of the highlights of the preseason.
— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) February 25, 2017
Yep. That’ll do.
Along with a partnership with fellow Fire newbie Dax McCarty that showed signs of being must-watch for Fire fans, Juninho showed the ability to be an offensive weapon with a willingness to take bold shots. Saturday will be our first opportunity to see whether Juninho’s impressive preseason can translate over to the regular season. His track record at Los Angeles would seem to indicate it will.
Salt Lake Suffering
Real Salt Lake will come into Toyota Park a hobbled squad. Center backs Justen Glad and Chris Schuler will not play in Saturday’s contest — a big blow to the RSL back line. The absences should give Nemanja Nikolic even more opportunities to score. Dimunitive striker extraordinaire Joao Plata is also reportedly dealing with a hip issue. And while he is listed as questionable, I would expect him to play. Still, he might not be 100 percent, especially in the Chicago cold.
Chicago, on the other hand, will be missing John Goossens and Matt Polster. But with the addition of Juninho, the health advantage still favors the Fire.
A Groningen Gaggle
OK, so maybe three doesn’t make a gaggle, but it should still be fun to see three former teammates abroad face off against each other for the first time in MLS. They were not teammates for very long, but they featured for FC Groningen in the hugely successful 2015 season in which it qualified for the Europa League.
Chicago center back Johan Kappelhof has a year of MLS experience under his belt and has established himself as a solidified starter in the league. Albert Rusnak has the heavy burden of replacing an all-time MLS great in Javier Morales. Expect to see Rusnak all over the field trying to create chances and expect Kappelhof to snuff out at least one or two of those attempts. And of course there is Michael de Leeuw who was red hot coming into the season and will look to regain that form after a choppy performance in Columbus.
Saturday should be a showcase of just how much influence the Eredivisie club is having on MLS. In addition to these three standouts, Danny Hoesen was brought in to San Jose from Groningen to make a big impact as well.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Real Salt Lake 1.
Real Salt Lake looked pretty dynamic in its opener despite not scoring. The Chicago Fire looked dynamic in the second half in Columbus las week. The big difference here is Chicago is getting a huge addition with Juninho and Salt Lake will be down at least Glad and Schuler and possibly Plata. Fire will ride to victory with goals from Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw while Rusnak announces his intentions to the league with his first goal.