Published on April 14th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt0
Streak Stopper: Chicago Fire vs New England Revolution Preview
The Chicago Fire has a hot team to handle Saturday as they welcome the New England Revolution who is unbeaten in their last three and coming off a clean sheet against what had been one of the hottest offenses in MLS.
I’m trying to think back to when the Fire beat such a hot team. One that had not lost in three straight and what not. Hmm … oh yeah! It was last week.
Chicago is coming off an impressive win of its own, beating formerly white-hot Columbus 1-0 with an impressive team performance. The win featured new looks all around, from a 3-4-3 formation to start and some significant contributions by young guns Drew Conner and Daniel Johnson.
Come Saturday, something will have to give on the momentum side for both teams. Luckily for the Fire, New England has had a rough run of it lately, leaving Toyota Park winless in its last five trips. But past history hardly matters come Saturday since both teams are quite different.
Bastian Schwenisteiger has made the kind of difference you would expect from a 10,000 time champion of every competition in the highest levels of soccer. The team looks confident, the shape looks stronger and the middle of the field generally belongs to Chicago.
In New England, Kei Kamara seems resurgent after having a whole camp with the club and the defense seems reinvigorated with Xavier Kouassi having a Dax-like affect and Antonio Delamea solidifying the backline.
It will be no easy test for these crucial three points before a hellacious road trip. Only a win can get the Fire the seven out of nine points most fans were hoping for on this three-game home stand. Let’s take a look at what should be the major keys.
How does Chicago line up?
I can’t recall the last time the Fire had this many questions to answer when it comes to who would play and how it would look. And that’s not a bad thing. The reason these questions exist is because the club has depth and has found success using multiple formations.
The Fire enjoyed early success Saturday using a 3-4-3 formation, a response to the absence of Juninho. But the formation wasn’t perfect, as it started to break down in the second half and force Veljko Paunovic to revert to the more standard 4-2-3-1. Paunovic will have a number of factors to weight when he makes his ultimate decision for Saturday.
On one hand, the 3-4-3 made both Michael Harrington and Brandon Vincent more effective. But with Juninho back, a 3-4-3 could cause too much redundancy in the middle of the field. Does Harrington even start now that Matt Polster has been deemed ready? If Polster is destined for right back, is he a wing back or more traditional four-man backline right back?
I have no inside information, but I have to assume we are going to see a 4-2-3-1 with Juninho back. It will give Schweinsteiger an opportunity to get closer to goal and Dax and Juninho should be able to control the midfield. Harrington will start at right back, but I’d be shocked if Polster does not come on.
This is the game. We have seen flashes from Daniel Johnson and Drew Conner and one of those two are going to start Saturday. David Accam has been listed as questionable with right hip pain and after a substandard performance Saturday, I could see Paunovic giving him a breather in favor of one of the kids, likely Johnson.
But the Fire is not the only team with a promising youngster. Rookie center back Josh Smith has been turning heads in New England and could factor in a big way. There is an off chance he doesn’t play because of thumb surgery, but the injury has not prevented him from starting the past two contests.
Whether it’s Johnson with a stunner or Smith with a big defensive effort, I have a strong feeling this game is lining up for one of the young, promising players to be the difference. Keep an eye on Smith if he plays.
As crazy as it may sound, this is going to be the most explosive offense the Fire has faced since Atlanta. There was no Higuain for Columbus Saturday and there was no Ignacio Piatti for Montreal two weeks ago. New England features Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez (who is in very fine form), Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara. It doesn’t result in as sexy of soccer as Atlanta, but it can be just as effective.
This will also be the first time Chicago has faced a true two-striker offense. Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira have been superb in the early going, but they’ve faced single striker attacks all season (essentially a “zero” striker attack against Atlanta). Agudelo and Kamara are going to be a different kind of challenge all together.
Because of that, I’d almost prefer a three-man back line that has Jonathan Campbell, Kappelhof and Meira play tight rather than a four-man back line where the team is relying on Harrington and Vincent to provide the help that will undoubtedly be needed.
We’re going to find out just how good the Kappelhof/Meira pairing can be.
Prediction: 3-2 Chicago Fire
As mentioned above, New England is going to have chances to score. After a clean sheet, I think the Fire will need to rely on their offense in this one, and it should come with Schweinsteiger pushed further up field thanks to a Juninho/Dax defensive midfield.
Nemanja Nikolic carries over his confidence from last week and scores along with Schweinsteiger. New England keeps it close thanks to scores from both Kamara and Agudelo, but wonder kid Daniel Johnson gets the game winner and delivers a much needed three points with his first MLS goal.