The Chicago Fire have had a very rough start to the season. After an amazing performance in the first 15 minutes of the first game, they have only picked up 1 point out of three matches. This week won’t be any easier as defending Supporters’ Shield winners Philadelphia Union arrive in Chicago to try to turn their own season around. Let’s have a look at who will be available.
Returning from injury last week for the Chicago Fire was Elliot Collier, who had a run out in the last half hour of the match. Still on the mend are wingers Ignacio Aliseda, Fabian Herbers, and Stanislaw Ivanov. Although, Aliseda might make the bench this week, which would be helpful as one of the team’s biggest selection issues has been the lack of healthy wingers. For the Philadelphia Union, the only notable absences appear to be Jose Martinez, who received a straight red in their last game for an elbow to the face, and Ilsinho, who’s struggling with a groin injury.
Here are three things to watch out for in this matchup:
The main story line for the past two games has been about how historically bad the Chicago Fire have been on the road. Their current winless streak stands at a year and 7 months, though it’s only 13 games. Still, 13 games is way too many games without a win. But that story line doesn’t matter for this game, as they return home to Soldier Field to regroup.
If the Fire are going to continue to struggle on the road, they need to make Soldier Field a fortress. During their best season in the past decade, 2017, the Fire only dropped two regular season games at home. Their away record wasn’t that impressive, only picking up 16 points out of those 17 games; but at home they only gave up 4 total goals the entire season until things fell apart in August.
It’s almost assumed at this point that the Fire will lose games on the road. That’s just where they are at this point. But if they want to stay out of the bottom of the league, they need to make these games at home count.
Surprisingly, the Philadelphia Union are right next to the Fire in the standings, boasting an identical 0-1-2 record. Philly is only ahead in goal differential by a single goal. But they do have an excuse, having played mid-week Champions’ League games in between their MLS matches. They’ve done very well in the Champions’ League, having now made it to the semi-finals, but their play in MLS has faltered a bit. They have lost their last two games at home to New York City FC and Inter Miami.
While they may certainly have been disappointed by two home losses, neither of them were really anything to really be concerned about. The Miami game was just a late comeback from the Higuain brothers and Philly was playing down a man for almost all of the NYCFC match. Their match in Columbus ended in a scoreless draw because both teams are very good. So coming to Chicago, Philadelphia need to put points on the board and show that they have not fallen off.
For normal teams, it’s not a good idea to start putting pressure on a head coach only three games into a season. However, the Chicago Fire are a very strange team. After struggling over the course of a decade, the fans have become accustomed to failure. But with new ownership, expectations were suddenly raised. Georg Heitz and Raphael Wicky came with a lot of hype behind them, with Heitz having built FC Basel into Champions’ League regulars and Wicky having a good relationship with Heitz.
After one season already, the cracks are showing in the way this duo operates. There are questions being raised about their knowledge of the MLS system and whether or not a slow build is the right direction for the club. The main theme of this past offseason was maintaining a consistent squad from 2020 into 2021. In effect, that makes 2021 just an extension of 2020. So when taking that into account, this isn’t an overreaction after 3 games, it’s honest frustration after 26 games from this new regime.
It would be wrong to think that people need to be fired right now, but it would be just as wrong to not ask questions about job security right now. The Fire need to win, not for the points or the standings, but as a simple proof of concept that this team deserves some more time.