Two Eastern Conference rivals face off on Saturday night as the New England Revolution hosts the Chicago Fire at Gillette Stadium.
New England had made a lovely start to this season, but they’ve fallen off the pace in recent times. They’ve lost three straight in all competitions, including a shocking defeat in the U.S. Open Cup to USL outfit Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The Revs are still in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, but they could use a win this weekend.
Chicago, meanwhile, has struggled in MLS play. They keep dropping points at home, and they sit only one spot above the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Open Cup has been a boost for them, as they advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday after beating Austin FC on the road. They do need some wins in the league, although picking up all three points here will be a challenge.
Here are some things to watch out for on Saturday.
Speaking of the Fire’s Open Cup run, that will almost certainly have an effect on this contest.
They named a first-choice lineup for Wednesday’s game, and that decision worked out since they secured the victory. However, that means that they likely will have to rotate the side this time around, especially given the circumstances of the game.
Gillette Stadium has a turf field instead of a grass field, and it’s an even rougher playing surface than other turf fields. That has an impact on the legs of players. Those who are older or who are coming back from injury usually prefer to avoid playing there if possible.
Chicago has names who fit that bill. Xherdan Shaqiri has been healthy for a few weeks now, but his injury history is very well known, so it might be better to keep him at home instead of risking him this weekend. Kei Kamara is 38-years-old, and he could certainly use the extra rest.
Then there’s everyone else who went the full 90 on Wednesday. There’s no way everyone will be able to go again, and the Fire knows they’ll have another midweek contest next week anyway.
Fans might not be too thrilled, but even they would understand if Chicago makes several changes to their lineup.
The Guti show
One name who will probably still feature is Brian Gutiérrez, and he might feature in a prominent role.
There’s been extra attention on him due to the fact that the Fire refused to release him for the U20 World Cup. Many in the United States were annoyed about that, but the club simply needed him more.
It’s paid off so far, as Gutiérrez assisted in the Open Cup game against Austin, and he had a decent showing in the previous match versus Atlanta United. He’s in a good run of form, and he’ll look to continue that this weekend.
His performances have also been big for Chicago since they’ve come alongside Shaqiri. There was a real fear that the two wouldn’t work together earlier in the season, but after a few games of gelling, they’ve shown that they can be quite the partnership.
However, as mentioned prior, Shaqiri might not even see the field this time around. That would take his attacking responsibilities and shift them over to Gutiérrez, who would become the main man going forward. He’d likely return to his preferred number 10 role, and he’d have to be the driving force if the Fire wants any chance of stealing a result.
That might just work out, though. It’s not like Chicago is better without Shaqiri, and they would certainly miss having him out there. However, Gutiérrez has shown that he can be the star man in the attack, especially when he gets the chance to run forward with the ball on the counter.
A stellar showing from him would only further boost his confidence, and show how special of a talent he truly is.
The Fire might not be the only ones making changes to their lineups.
There could be some tweaks to New England’s starting eleven, although that wouldn’t be because of player fitness or the field they’ll be playing on. Any of their alterations would be due to their poor run of form.
They’ve not won a game since May 6th. That’d be a concern for any team, but that’s certainly a worry for this Revolution side who have genuine aspirations of being contenders. They haven’t looked like it as of late, and there’s pressure on head coach Bruce Arena to fix things.
The situation has only gotten trickier thanks to a potential injury. Star man Carles Gil was forced off early in New England’s last match against the Philadelphia Union, and he’s in a race to recover for this weekend’s contest. There’s a decent chance he’ll be good to go, but if he’s not, then Arena will have another headache to deal with.
So, what will the head coach do? Will he mess with the system itself, or will he only change the personnel that sees the pitch? Only heaven knows, but there’s reason to believe Designated Player striker Giacomo Vrioni will return to the starting lineup, at least. That could be pivotal.
No matter what happens, expect the Revs to look a little different on Saturday.
Easy does it
I’m not one for match predictions, but this seems like a simple contest to forecast.
Chicago has struggled in MLS play this season, they’re on the road, and they just had a game on Wednesday that took a lot out of them. New England are the better side, and they need the win a lot more.
With all that in mind, it’d make sense if the Revolution ends up winning quite comfortably. It won’t be a blowout or anything since most meetings between these two sides are close, but it’d be a relatively routine night at the office.
This league is sometimes stupid, of course, so anything still can happen. Just don’t expect that to be the case this weekend.
Final score prediction: New England Revolution 3-1 Chicago Fire