Before jumping into the preview, check out the latest episode of the Fire Confidential Live podcast with guest MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal right here.
Also check out the Fire Confidential AMA over on Reddit.
What Are They All About? Miami FC
The wins just keep coming. The Chicago Fire won against the Montreal Impact 4-1 this past Wednesday and extended their unbeaten streak in first team matches. The preseason undefeated run goes back almost three years with their last friendly loss coming to the New England Revolution on February 26, 2014. The Fire will have a chance to keep that impressive form going this Sunday against Miami FC. Another victory would see them well on their way to winning the Suncoast Invitational, a trophy that would look at home next to such prestigious silverware as the Simple Invitational, the Desert Diamond Cup, the Carolina Challenge Cup and the Louisiana Challenge Cup.
Perhaps more impressive than the essentially meaningless results is the fact that Chicago’s front line is firing on all cylinders. The chemistry exhibited by Accam, DeLeeuw, and Nikolic has supporters smiling and daring to hope once again. That hope has gotten them in trouble before but more and more the Process is looking like it may have a cohesive approach after all. Small questions remain about connecting the midfield to the attack and about the defensive cohesion of the right side but Chicago has started to address the main concerns that led to them finishing last in MLS in 2016. The match against Miami FC serves as an opportunity to solidify the readiness of the starting eleven in terms of fitness and it will also give Paunovic another chance to evaluate the youngsters. Will Miami surprise Chicago in the sun, or will the Fire grasp one of the handles of another trophy (or plaque, or cup, or shield)? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Formation: 4-4-2; Vega; Borrajo, Bernstein, Adailton, Farfan; Lahoud, Poku, Martinez, Steele; Chavez, Rennella
Strengths: Although Chicago has had some success against MLS clubs this preseason, they have faced some subpar opposition. Philadelphia looked as if they skipped their offseason training regimens all together, and Montreal started five academy players against the Fire. This will be the first time that Chicago faces an NASL side, a league that will have a chip on its shoulder to prove it belongs, and they don’t have enough depth to start an experimental lineup. Let’s see where they’ll succeed.
Denaro Italiana: Miami FC enters its second season of existence and it does so backed by some Italian money. Riccardo Silva, the owner of Miami FC, made his money with the MP & Silva media sports company before starting the NASL franchise with Italian legend Paolo Maldini. They wasted no time in hiring Mauro Pederzoli as Technical Director and Alessandro Nesta as the Head Coach. Pederzoli’s resume includes technical director positions at Brescia, Cagliari, Torino and Novara. He was also a head scout at Liverpool for two years, and ran the prestigious Milan youth academy as well. Nesta’s legendary status at Lazio and Milan speaks for itself but he also spent time with the Montreal Impact before retiring, gaining a sense of North American soccer in the process. The team has brought a unique approach to NASL, aiming to replicate the Milanese model of a community first model on the surface but placing a firm emphasis on financial rewards and on field results. Needless to say, these owners appear committed to success. Oh, and in the interest of some of our readers, the group is responsible for commissioning the Deloitte report on the feasibility of promotion/relegation in North American Soccer…
Il Regista: With Alessandro Nesta you know what you’re going to get. No nonsense, organized, tactically aware, defensively oriented Calcio. There was never going to be any other formation implemented than the 4-4-2 and it worked semi-well for them. The first year franchise just missed out on the playoffs and will be looking to improve their cohesion as a unit.
Centro Campistis: The midfield shared the brunt of both attacking and defensive duties so let’s start our analysis there. Ariel Martinez and Kwadwo Poku were the engine room of the team last season and Chicago will need to pay attention to their budding partnership. Poku notched six goals and two assists last season while Martinez added seven goals of his own. Both of them have the ability to create and run all day long. Miami’s utilization of two box to box midfielders will test the Juninho and McCarty partnership as the midfield will be a bit more contested than it has in previous preseason matches this year. If Nesta wants to switch up the 4-4-2 and utilize more of a diamond formation, perhaps we will see the debut of former FC Dallas and Rayo OKC player Michel, acquired in the offseason.
Jonny Steele and Michael Lahoud should feature on the left and right wings respectively, with Lahoud offering speed and flashiness while Steele still has some magic in his boots in terms of crossing. Once responsible for providing service to Thierry Henry at New York Red Bull, Steele’s speed and stamina may have dipped but his accuracy hasn’t.
Weaknesses: If you noticed that the above column only discussed the midfield and the technical staff, you’re on to something… To be quite honest, this Miami FC side did not deliver much in terms of offensive productivity or defensive fortitude. Let’s have a look.
Dove è la rete?: There are three forwards remaining on their roster from last season–Jaime Chavez, Aaron Davis, and Vincenzo Rennella. Those three combined for a whopping nine goals, just 24% of the team’s total from last season. To put that into perspective, aside from Martinez’s seven goal tally mentioned earlier, their forwards should also be shamed into remembering that center back Rhett Bernstein scored the same amount of goals (or rather, goal singular) as striker Aaron Dennis. In the offseason Miami signed Fluminense youth product Stefano Pinho after the 2015 NASL golden boot winner was not asked to make the jump to MLS with Minnesota United. All he has to do is not five goals this season and he’ll already surpass the achievements of his predecessors. The bar isn’t too high for Pinho, but let’s remembers that Chicago has been stingy in conceding recently.
Mi fa cagare!: Miami allowed 42 goals last season. Jacksonville and North Carolina are the only NASL teams that conceded more in that campaign. The biggest test in terms of competing against Chicago will come on their defensive end. With Chicago scoring at will against lesser opposition this past week it is hard to imagine that Fire legend Adailton, now plying his trade in Miami, or former MLS journeyman Hunter Freeman will provide much resistance to the likes of Nikolic and DeLeeuw. Adailon might have something to prove but he seemed pretty worn down and broken two season ago, we doubt he has the strength to show much in this one. Ultimately, Nesta must be furious at his side’s inability to get things done in his former playing position. The squad is organized and seems to have chemistry, but simple mistakes, lapses of judgment, and some suspect goal keeping really made them look average last season. The additions of former FC Dallas goal keeper Ryan Herman, America youth product and former Philadelphia Union defender Gabriel Farfan, and former New York Red Bull Tyler Ruthven were brought in to help make changes.
Prediction: Chicago continues its fine form. Chicago 3-1 Miami. However, supporters would much rather see success in October than domination of lesser sides in February. Catch the stream at 5pm at Chicago-Fire.com with old friend Kevin Egan on the call.