This week, FC Dallas travels to Chicago to take on the undefeated Fire. Undefeated... and … Fire. I haven’t put those words together in a while. The two teams faced each other in a preseason match that ended in a scoreless draw, and since that date, Ezra Hendrickson’s squad has given up exactly one goal in MLS play through four matches.
Our old Brimstone Cup foes enter the weekend with a record of 2W-0L-2D – good for third place in the East and earning them 13th place in the MLS Power Rankings (just one behind Dallas). Their opponents, however, have a combined record of 6W-9L-3D, which perhaps explains why they are rated somewhere in the middle of the pack rather than the top of the league.
The big offseason story for Chicago was the acquisition of Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri from Lyon, but maybe even more important was the acquisition of center back Rafael Czichos from Bundesliga side FC Koln to help stabilize the defense. Replacing departing DP Robert Beric, Kacper Przybylko left Philadelphia for the windy city.
The match against Indy Eleven is listed as a friendly and, given that Chicago played Orlando City the following day (and no information is given beyond the score), I can only assume the squad was finding minutes for the reserves.
The most recent match against Sporting featured one of the worst performances of Tim Melia’s career. Kacper Przybylko scored a brace – both of which Melia usually manages. In between, Shaqiri scored his first of the year from the spot after a soft foul in the box. But all three goals resulted from Chicago attacking quickly in transition before Kansas City could set up defensively (which has sounded some early alarm bells for those concerned that Sporting has aged suddenly). In fact, Joe Lowery quoted coach Ezra Henderson’s half-time comments: “’I like the pressure we’re putting on them, in the midfield especially....’ ‘We were able to win the ball and then go on the counter-attack.’” That will be a primary focus for Dallas. In addition, Sporting played without its usual frontline: Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi, and Khiry Shelton all missed the match and left Chicago largely free to play on the front foot throughout the match.
In the previous week’s win over D.C. United, Chicago similarly took three points after scoring in transition moments. Bornstein and Ivanov were both unmarked as United scrambled to recover. I don’t want to underestimate the Fire, but I remain unconvinced of their third place ranking in the East. United’s two wins thus far came against Cincinnati and Charlotte (in week 1), so Chicago’s quality of opposition has been relatively low. I’m sure they see Dallas as a test of where they’re at so far.
Player Notes for Chicago:
Xherdan Shaqiri: He’s had stints with several big clubs across Europe: Liverpool, Bayern, and Inter. However, a history of injuries has limited his effectiveness. Matt Doyle noted that Shaqiri has not played more than 1100 minutes in a season in four years. Now 30, Shaqiri arrives in MLS as the centerpiece for a franchise attempting to rebuild again. He has one goal this season from the penalty spot and a pair of assists, but his 12 key passes in four games put him in company with Carles Gil and Lucas Zelarayan.
Rafael Czichos: The 31-year-old German center back has spent his entire career to this point playing in the Bundesliga. Last year Chicago gave up 54 goals in 34 matches (about 1.6 per match). Overall, the team is less prone to errors so far, but Czichos is organizing the backline. Again, the squad has given up one goal through four games.
Kacper Przybylko: Last year the 29-year-old German forward scored 12 goals for the Philadelphia Union while adding 4 assists. With Shaqiri playing the #10 behind him, he seems primed for a career year.
Gaga Slonina: I haven’t mentioned the 17-year-old wunderkind so far. I feel like I’ve been reading about him for months, but I haven’t seen him often. In all honesty, he didn’t have much to do in Chicago’s last two outings. He has nine saves in four games so far. I will say that the goal that Sporting scored resulted from the same kind of exchanges between the forward line as Dallas’ goals against Portland. But enjoy watching the kid while we can.
Line Up Prediction: 4-2-3-1
Herbers – Shaqiri – Ivanov
Pineda – Gimenez
Navarro – Czichos – Omsberg – Sekulic
We know the attack will flow through Shaqiri, so expect Cerrillo to be busy with the veteran. Pineda and Gimenez will be actively roaming the midfield but contribute less to the attack. Outside backs Navarro (U22 Initiative) and Sekulic (4 assists last year) will dependably get up and down the flanks, but most of the danger will flow from Shaqiri.
Injury Report: (via MLSsoccer.com)
Slonina and Czichos are clearly listed as questionable. I haven’t found any clarification of what the concerns might be, so I expect them to play.
OUT: Carlos Terán (right thigh), Andre Reynolds II (left thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: Victor Bezerra (right shoulder), Rafael Czichos (left foot), Gaga Slonina (left ankle)
2:30 PM at Soldier Field in Chicago. Saturday looks to be cold and rainy with a high of 45 degrees.
I will probably be watching on Twitter because the game will be unavailable on TXA-21.