Preview: Chicago Fire (h).
When? Saturday April 9, 10 a.m. PT, 1 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game is being broadcast on Univision, Twitter (English audio) for residents of the United States. Real Radio 104.1 FM and Accion 97.9 FM for radio broadcast in the Greater Orlando area. The game is being broadcast on FreeSports for us UK folk (FreeView channel 64) and the FreeSports app.
Why is MLS scheduling so bizarre? We literally just played Chicago. Anywho, this is probably an ideal game for Orlando City given their current malaise. There's no real shame in losing to LAFC; plenty of teams will this season. The manner in which the goals were concerned will have been a worry for Oscar Pareja, however. This game represents the perfect opportunity to bounce back from that defeat.
Chicago have started the season reasonably well, having won 3 and drawn 2 of their 5 games so far. This will be a solid test but, in our house, this needs to be a win. It feels a little early to say this is must win, but a defeat would raise some serious questions. If Orlando were to suffer 3 straight home defeats at this stage of the season... Well, it wouldn't be a good look would it?
Chicago seem like a team reborn so far this season, with an entirely new identity; pragmatic and hard to beat. Through 5 games so far this season, the Fire have kept 4 clean sheets. Gabriel Slonina has earned plaudits so far this season, even being linked with a move to Premier League giants Chelsea. With an XG conceded score of 4.07, it's impressive that he's only conceded once (in the 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City). The youngster has made an impressive 10 saves across his 450 minutes (figure 1), showing high levels of concentration for one so young.
Figure 1 shows some of Slonina's stats on the season so far.
Slonina is not the only reason Chicago are suddenly hard to beat, they've improved exponentially in terms of their defensive play. Their defensive shape and organisation has improved no end. I believe a lot of that can be attributed to Ezra Hendrickson. Defensively speaking, it's largely the same squad as last season. He's just gotten them better organised.
Whilst Slonina has undoubtedly proven his worth at the back, Chicago ranks 23rd in MLS (figure 2) for most saves in a match, which shows how well they are protecting him. They lead the league in clean sheets and fewesr goals conceded. They also score highly in tackles per game (8th) and clearances per game (10th). They're doing the hard graft on the defensive end. They just need to improve their attacking output; they rank 25th for big chances created and 17th for shots on target per match. If they can sort that out, they're a play-off team.
Figure 2 shows Chicago's ranking for saves per game.
The Fire are set to be without Jhon Durán due to injury, whilst Xherdan Shaqiri is being assessed day-to-day following his injury against FC Dallas.
Orlando, on the other hand, are only sans Michael Halliday. Oh, and maybe Antonio Carlos. I think I'm just in denial, but he's definitely out. Aside from that, Oscar Pareja has a fully fit squad to choose from.
This section will be updated as more information becomes available.
Possible starting XI
Chicago have had a decent rest week, as well as being in fairly good form. As a result I think they'll line-up something like this, in their favoured 4-2-3-1 formation:
The Swiss forward has quickly established his credentials so far in MLS, scoring once and playing 12 key passes through his first 378 minutes of MLS action. The former Liverpool and Inter Milan star has completed 5 dribbles, 9 crosses (33% success rate) and has an average rating of 7.17 according to Fotmob.com. I'm a little surprised he hasn't connected more with Kacper Przybyłko, but I think that will come in time. Shaqiri featured heavily against England and Kosovo in the international break, which may explain his injury, suffered in the 19th minute against FC Dallas. Shaqiri is being assessed day-to-day, so we'll have to wait and see if he features this weekend.
The Fire have gotten off to a solid start to the season, with a 3-2-0 record that has them sat 4th in the east.
Orlando City meanwhile, have had a less than stellar start. A run of 1 win from 4 has included damaging home defeats to FC Cincinnati and LAFC. The Lions are currently 6th in the east, with a 2-2-2 record.
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com
Cover image courtesy of Orlando City SC.