Saturday night will once again find two teams meeting up trying to change their fortunes in MLS play as Toronto FC (2-4-4) hosts the Chicago Fire (1-3-4) in a game that finds both teams desperate for a win. Toronto, who seem to hold Chicago spellbound at BMO Field, will be looking to salvage points as they play their seventh match in three weeks, while Chicago, sitting on a week of rest but frustrated after a 0-0 draw with Vancouver last week, are hoping they can generating some finishing ability to give themselves a notch in the W column, while simultaneously pulling even with Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings.
Toronto is coming off a 1-0 midweek loss to Dallas FC on Wednesday, in a game that saw Toronto playing from behind in the second half after a stoppage time penalty at the end of the first half put them a goal down. Toronto never recovered, as Dallas instituted a defensive posture in the second half to preserve three points against an offensively struggling Toronto side.
According to Toronto coach Aron Winter, this game apparently doesn’t mean nearly as much to the squad as the upcoming Nutrilite Canadian Championship game against the same Vancouver Whitecaps that just tied the Fire. Winter was quoted earlier this week as saying that the upcoming NCC match will be the most important match of Toronto’s season, as they still have something to play for there, as opposed to MLS play, where they seemingly have already given up hope of a positive season or playoff run.
Toronto is sure to present a 4-3-3 lineup that sometimes resembles more of a 4-1-2-3, with Julian de Guzman dropping back occasionally into a defensive midfielder position. Toronto, with just one win in the time since both clubs registered wins back on March 26th, will be looking to capitalize on their home pitch and give Chicago a similar result to last year’s 3-1 win at BMO Field. Whether or not they can press Chicago’s defense in the offensive third will remain to be seen.
Chicago once again find themselves in desperate need of a win. The current streak, which included watching April come and go without a win or significant points, looms large over the heads of all Chicago Fire staff, players, and fans, as a 1-0-1 March start gave way to frustration, injury, and lack of finishing solid scoring chances. The Fire now find themselves in a similar position this week to last, facing a fatigued and beatable Toronto team who are preparing to play their seventh match in 22 days.
Chicago coach Carlos de los Cobos seems intent on sticking with the tactics he’s used the last few weeks, a 4-1-4-1 formation that includes former Carolina Railhawk Daniel Paladini, rookie defender Jalil Anibaba, and the Uruguayan combo of Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves. Returning to the lineup will be veteran Cory Gibbs, sure to again fill a central defender role. Captain Logan Pause, still out with a strained hamstring, is listed as questionable for the match. Also absent is second year GK Sean Johnson, out with a quad strain, as well as Patrick Nyarko, who is battling concussion symptoms.
Toronto is hoping to strike early against Chicago, using a match on their home pitch to their advantage, where they’ve had much previous success against the Fire. One has to believe that if Toronto FC can get an early lead, they may sit back and play a more defensive and strategic game, hoping to save as much as they can for the upcoming Vancouver match on the 18th.
Chicago will no doubt try to come out and control possession as they did last week against Vancouver. What they need to do most is finish scoring chances and use their possession game to capitalize if they can get an early lead. Chicago has proven themselves successful by putting up the first goal of the game in matches this season. Where they falter is in allowing the equalizing goal through weakened or lax defense, and at times, playing to not lose, rather than playing to win.
If Chicago can come out, score first, and keep the pressure on Toronto, they can head into their next match against Philadelphia with a win under their belt. If they don’t, and they play too conservatively or lay back on defense hoping only to preserve a win, Toronto will have all the leverage it needs to score an equalizer, or even pull out a win on home soil.
Result: Chicago 2 Toronto 0
(image courtesy of chicago-fire.com)