Major League Soccer has returned to the heart of the City of Chicago. While there were games played at the stadium during last season, this opening game of the 2021 MLS season marks a return to Soldier Field for Chicago Fire fans. The party might be spoiled, however, with a fairly strong New England Revolution team set to face off against the Fire.
The two clubs come into this game with two very different trajectories when it comes to injuries. The Revs appear to have a clean bill of health as they arrive in Chicago, while the Fire are nursing multiple injuries sustained in the preseason. Goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm is still recovering from an ACL injury he got back in July of last year, both Fabian Herbers and Elliot Collier took knocks in preseason games, and new signing Stanislav Ivanov was forced to get surgery last month due to a meniscus tear in his knee. And these are only the confirmed injuries. There’s still no word on Ignacio Aliseda, Carlos Teran, and Miguel Navarro, who all appeared to be nursing injuries by the end of preseason.
Let’s look at three things to watch out for in this opening game of the Chicago Fire’s 2021 season.
One of the biggest questions going into this Chicago Fire season is “What is the story going to be anyway?” Last season was filled with a lot of changes and a lot of chaos for everyone. There was a massive influx of new players who struggled to settle into the team due to the nature of the year 2020. This struggle was very visible, with many of the newer players not performing at all near their best.
This preseason, a few of those new guys opened up about their experiences in 2020, while also asserting that they’ve finally settled in now. For players like Ignacio Aliseda, you could already see the difference during the preseason where he consistently performed much better than at any point during the 2020 season. There were also guys who seemed lost last season despite having been with the club for a few years, like Przemyslaw Frankowski, finally stepping up in the preseason.
Unfortunately, these assumptions are made based on the preseason, which means that we will have to wait and see what happens on Saturday.
The Three Kings
The New England Revolution’s roster composition is a unicorn in MLS. The Designated Player rule was created so that the LA Galaxy could pay over the salary budget for David Beckham. Thus, the perception that DPs need to be big name players was born. But in practice, with three slots available to teams, most can’t actually bring in three stars. Many can barely even bring in three serviceable players. But the Revs have done something really interesting.
Bruce Arena, who had previously coached teams with stars like David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and even Marco Etcheverry way back before the DP rule, decided to approach the Revolution in a much more subdued way. His three DPs, Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa, all came from clubs that weren’t exactly “big name” producers. But each of them, especially Gil and Bou, have come up big and produced for the Revs since joining the team. Not many teams can boast three DPs performing like DPs.
Score More Goals Than the Other Team
While the Chicago Fire appear to be slowly gaining confidence and cohesion on the pitch, there’s still one glaring issue: the defense. Despite an impressive showing from the attack in the preseason, the Fire’s defense consistently gave up goals off of terrible defensive mistakes. Francisco Calvo has gained a reputation now with two separate MLS teams as a defender who can hit the highest highs and lowest lows at any point within a game. This, combined with a recent history of less-than-stellar goalkeeping, puts the Fire in a very tough position in their own third.
The solution to this problem? Just score more than the other team. One part of the squad that has appeared incredibly strong in the preseason was the attack, as mentioned earlier. Coach Raphael Wicky appears to be sticking to a high-pressing tactic, keeping the ball in the opponent’s third in a bid to not only score more goals, but to keep it out of their own third. It’ll be on that attack to ensure victory, as there won’t be much help from the defense.
Chicago Fire (4-3-3): Bobby Shuttleworth; Boris Sekulic, Mauricio Pineda, Francisco Calvo, Jonathon Bornstein; Gaston Gimenez, Luka Stojanovic, Alvaro Medran; Przemyslaw Frankowski, Robert Beric, Chinonso Offor
New England Revolution (4-2-3-1): Matt Turner; Christian Mafla, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell, Tajon Buchanan; Wilfrid Kaptoum, Matt Polster; Arnór Traustason, Gustavo Bou, Carles Gil; Adam Buksa
How To Watch
Saturday, April 17th, 7:30 PM CDT; At Soldier Field in Chicago, IL, on WGN or online through the Chicago Fire website