Published on April 20th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt


Toronto FC vs Chicago Fire Preview

The Chicago Fire has lived a life of luxury early in the season, enjoying four of the first six games in the friendly confines of Toyota Park, including a the recent three-game stretch that allowed German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger to comfortably transition to his new home without worrying about a pesky 1,000+ mile road trip.

And to the Fire’s credit they took advantage of the cushy start, winning three of the four home games and landing near the top of the conference standings to start the year.

But now it’s time to find out if this dream start is just a dream or something more.

Chicago begins a three-game road trip Friday against Toronto FC, who conversely is starting a three-game home stand with the hopes of getting a one-win season back on track. Despite the early struggles, Toronto remains one of the stiffest tests in the league as long as Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley roam the field. Quality abounds with the likes of Armando Cooper and Victor Vazquez, though it’s been easy to forget about them with the Reds slow start.

The Fire still has plenty to prove on the road. In their two trips away from Toyota Park they pulled off one respectable draw, but then had their pants pulled down for all to see on Facebook of all places when they traveled to Atlanta. But both those games came without our lord and savior Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has completely changed the attitude and confidence of this team.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited as this true test begins. Five points would be a great haul for this team, four would be acceptable and three would leave some uneasy feelings. Anything less would reignite the panic we all hope is a thing of the past.

Let’s get to our 3 Things to Watch!

Midfield Melee

If you need a reason to watch the game, the matchups in the midfield should be more than enough. Toronto boasts the likes of the aforementioned Bradley and Vazquez while the Fire have the fiercest defensive midfield in MLS with Dax McCarty, Juninho and Schweinsteiger locking it down.

While not technically a midfielder, Giovinco loves to drop back and create from the middle of the field and adds another challenge for the Fire. Despite Toronto’s quality, I think the Fire can win this matchup. Whether Chicago opts to use a three-man backline to get more bodies in the midfield or not, the Fire has the quality to stop a sputtering Toronto attack. Toronto has created opportunities, but the team has struggled to finish as evidenced by Giovinco’s paltry single goal on the year.

For a team already struggling to finish, I doubt the extra pressure that comes from facing a McCarty-Juninho-Schweinsteiger midfield will be the remedy. And a solid center back pairing of Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira adds another level of frustration awaiting any would-be goal scorer.

(*cough* Dax is better than Bradley *cough, cough*)

Nemanja Nik-Goal-ic!

The Hungarian striker is feeling it now! After a slow start, the big-money striker is living up to expectations with three goals in the last two games including a great brace against New England in his las outing. But this Toronto defense, even minus Drew Moor (who we all sincerely hope recovers from his heart condition), is a tough matchup even for an in-form goal scorer. It will be interesting to see how Chicago handles Toronto’s three-man backline. It results in some added size in the center of the defense for Niko to deal with and has proven successful as the club has allowed an impressive six goals in six games, only two of which came at home.

Offense down Toronto’s right side will be tough with Steven Beitashour and Eriq Zavaleta patrolling the area, so David Accam may not be as much of a factor as usual, putting even more pressure on Nikolic. It’s a good test I’m eager to see play out. And if he does score, I think Dan Kelly should call him Nik-goal-ic. It seems like a very Dan Kelly thing to say.

Sleeping Giant

On one hand, it is nice catching Toronto when it is struggling. On the other hand, this is a team that is going to be extremely motivated to get a win in front of its home fans.

Chicago is going to have to weather a strong push in the first 20 minutes and will likely have to deal with being the team on the wrong end of the possession metric. First things first, the Fire needs to prove they have more composure than they showed in Atlanta. A red card because of a bad throw in (or frustration or any other reason) would be fatal. They need to remain patient as well. They will need to strike on the counter maybe more than they would like, but with the long range passing ability of guys like McCarty and Schweinsteiger, that is a more than useable option.

Those two things seem like no-brainers, but it is much easier said (and written) than done. Chicago proved it can stay patient and play a man up on Saturday. Now the Fire have to prove they can play patient and composed in what will be a difficult environment.

Prediction: Chicago 1, Toronto 1

Winning on the road is very difficult in this league and for as good as Chicago has looked, I’m not sure they get find a victory in hostile territory against the MLS Cup runners-up. A draw is respectable here and I think the Men in Red get one thanks to a Michael de Leeuw goal. I predicted Accam on the podcast but I think The Lion deserves one after doing all the little things right for most of this season so far. Jozy gets one for Toronto after Jorge Bava makes a save on a Giovinco shot that trickles right to Altidore.

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