The Chicago Fire started off with plenty of hope in 2019, but now they find themselves in a must-win situation versus Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
The 2019 season has been a tough one for the Chicago Fire. After an impressive offseason that saw the club add Polish international Przemysław Frankowski and former Atletico Madrid midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, fans were excited for the year ahead. However, it has never really got going for the Men In Red, who now find themselves in a true spot of bother.
For the Chicago Fire, Saturday night’s game against Real Salt Lake is simply a must win.
Chicago will already be on the outside of the playoffs looking in coming into the contest. Currently tied for eighth place with Orlando City, they sit one point behind Toronto FC in the race for the seventh and final playoff spot. Considering how talented this roster is, that is a dreadful record.
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It’s a damning indictment on the job head coach Veljko Paunovic has done this year. The Serbian signed a contract extension in the offseason, which wasn’t the most popular decision with the Fire fan base. The front office argued it would bring stability to the team, but it’s only lead to apathy.
Players no longer seem motivated by Paunovic, and many others are questioning his tactics on a weekly basis. He constantly overcomplicates simple decisions and benches people on a whim. He should have been fired following the shock U.S. Open Cup elimination at the hands of St Louis FC. Predictably, he wasn’t. But failure to get a result on Saturday could very well be the final nail in his coffin.
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Things won’t be getting any easier for the Fire either. Their upcoming stretch of games might be the toughest they will have all season. Following the game against RSL, the Men In Red head north to New York to face the Red Bulls. Chicago then comes back home during the middle of the week to host reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United before getting back on the road to face off against Sporting Kansas City away from home. Those are three brutal games in the span of a week that is packed with plenty of travel. It’ll be tough for the Fire to get any points from those matches, so getting all three on Saturday is essential.
Real Salt Lake have plenty quality. The squad is deep and varied and Mike Petke is an experienced MLS head coach. But they also have problems. They are currently riding a three-match losing streak, conceding nine goals while only scoring once in that time span. RSL are incredibly inconsistent as well. They toppled Atlanta United a month ago but also lost 5-0 away to D.C. United at the start of the season. But whatever the case, they can be beaten and the pressure will be on Chicago to get the job done at home.
If the Fire are able to pick up the win on Saturday night, it could be the catalyst for another iconic summer stretch, similar to the one that made the team relevant back in 2017. If not, it might very well be an incredibly early end to a season that initially seemed so promising.