What Are They All About? SKC Preview
Well, the Chicago Fire has lost on the road yet again. They fell 1-0 to TFC last Saturday and it has now been two calendar years since their last three points on the road but it’s okay because they played the best they could… Inconsistency seems to continue to plague Chicago and you never truly know what you are going to get with this squad but they’ll try to piece something together as Sporting Kansas City visit Toyota Park on Wednesday.
The visitors will arrive in Bridgeview with a much different outlook than their hosts. Although SKC was ousted from the U.S. Open Cup by Houston two weeks ago they currently find themselves on a five match unbeaten run in the league. Convincing wins against Western conference leaders FC Dallas and Eastern Conference leading NYCFC highlight the last few weeks for the Sporting KC. The streak puts SKC in fifth place in the West and read for a push up the table in the second half of the season.
Peter Vermes and his men have a three match stint against Western conference opponents coming up after their meeting with Chicago, they will look to pad themselves with points before meeting Colorado, Seattle and Portland. Will the Fire pleasantly surprise the Toyota Park faithful with something to cheer about or will SKC continue their form and deflate Chicago hearts a little more?
SKC (Last Five Competitive Matches): W-W-L-D-W
Previous Match: A 3-1 home win over NYCFC.
Formation in Previous Match: 4-4-3; Melia, Salaan, Opara, Olum, Medranda; Feilhaber, Mustivar, Espinoza; Peterson, Rubio, Davis
Chicago: While we do not normally analyze Chicago’s play in our opponent previews the Fire’s last few performances warrant a reality check. Inconsistency has been a constant factor for Chicago over the course of the season and we don’t just mean between games. Differing performances have happened within matches as well. Chicago started well against Philadelphia and went through a defensive collapse before half time; a high energy start against Columbus before nervy final minutes was the story in the latest round of the Open Cup; a drab 1-0 result over San Jose never looked comfortable, and a loss to TFC’s C squad after a dreadful start were all microcosms of Chicago’s season.
These type of Jekyll and Hyde moments play into the hands of opponents. Teams come into matches against the Fire knowing that they will get an opportunity at some point and that makes them more dangerous. Poached goals, powerful counter attacks, and a knack for closing down matches mean that SKC is among the best teams in the league at taking advantage of mistakes. Chicago could be their own downfall in this one.
Chance Creation and Possession: The level of Chicago’s inconsistency is equally matched by SKC’s constant play. You know that Vermes is going to send out his charges in a 4-3-3 with high press tactics when they aren’t in possession and a very unique blend of both possession and high tempo based play when they are on the ball. They have out possessed their opponents in all but one of their last five matches (Dallas) and at times it isn’t even close. Matches against NYCFC (67/33) and Houston (62/38) show the potential of their tactics.
Their last five matches have also seen SKC log double digit shots in all but the match against Dallas. Interestingly, the shooting threat is shared amongst the SKC squad as thirteen different players have registered a shot on target in that time. The largest threat comes from Dom Dwyer who has taken 63 shots, 21 on target and 8 in the net this season but the midfield behind him is quite helpful as well. SKC’s shoot on sight policy is reflected with Roger Espinoza’s 32 shots, 10 on target; Jimmy Medranda’s 31 shots, 7 on target; Benny Feilhaber’s 31 shots, 11 on target; and Brad Davis’ 24 shots, 9 on target. Paunovic’s rallying cry of “No Shot, No Goal” will need to be taken seriously if Chicago is to get anything from this match, especially given Sean Johnson’s soft goal allowed against TFC.
Midfield Battles: One specific area where Chicago has struggled is unfortunately also one where SKC has excelled. Although Razvan Cocis and Khaly Thiam have at times looked comfortable winning the ball back from opponents they struggle to link up with the forwards in meaningful ways. Perhaps the addition of Michael de Leeuw will remedy the situation if he sits deeper on Wednesday, but the Wiz have looked scary in the middle of the park.
Heat maps of Mustivar, Espinoza, Feilhaber, Davis, and Zusi over the last few matches reveal solid green in the midfield and the amount of successful tackles and distribution in that part of the pitch is almost illegible. Their ability to dominate play and connect with the front three will most likely cause Chicago headaches throughout the match. Did we mention that Dom Dwyer is returning from yellow card suspension?
The Return of the King: Fire legend and fan favorite Justin Mapp will make his return to Chicago (not in a Montreal jersey this time) and perhaps a few substitute minutes will see the 31 year old relive his 2003 Chicago form of bombing down the side line and terrifying defenses.
We’ll take a page out of Paunovic’s book this time. Chicago will have to look at themselves and not their opponent in this one. It’s now or never for the Men in Red and no amount of opponent weaknesses will matter if they don’t start to find their identity.
Prediction: Paunovic and company continue to dangle a bit of hope in front of the fans. Chicago 2-2 SKC. Michael de Leeuw and David Accam prove their worth and remind onlookers that there might be something to look forward at some point in the future.