May 16, 2017 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Chicago Fire
Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids 2017 MLS Regular Season Toyota Park - Bridgeview, Ill. Wednesday, May 15 - 8:30 pm ET WATCH: MLS LIVEAny doubters of the Chicago Fire revival were likely silenced on Saturday night, when a packed house at Toyota Park watched head coach Veljko Paunovic's side dismantle the defending champion Seattle Sounders by a 4-1 scoreline. Now, Chicago will face a new type of challenge: their first midweek game of the year as a busy summer approaches.
The two-game swing could prove to be the first real test of depth for a Fire side that has managed to stay mostly healthy this year. Paunovic admitted after the Sounders win that he may need to rotate a few of his players considering the Fire will have another midweek challenge the following week when they host FC Dallas in between trips to Orlando and D.C.
"We have the stretch of four games in two weeks where we have to give guys some rest, and some guys we need to push them until we have that small break that we will have after the game against Dallas," Paunovic said. "It's great to have everyone on the same page, it's great to have everyone pushing hard for their position and also committed for whenever they have the opportunity to be ready and give their best."
The good news for Chicago is that they will start that run of games at home against the West's last-placed team, the Colorado Rapids, who on Saturday snapped a five-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Still, Paunovic and his men will have to be wary of the Rapids and star attacker Shkelzen Gashi, who registered two long-awaited goals on Saturday to open his 2017 account.
Paunovic wouldn't tip his hand as to what his rotations might entail, but one spot to look at may be central midfield, where key offseason acquisition Juninho is already nursing an ankle sprain that kept him out of the 18 against the Sounders. German star Bastian Schweinsteiger will also be another one to watch as Paunovic rotates his squad - not only does Juninho's injury already create an extra wrinkle in his selection strategy, the upcoming stretch will be Schweinsteiger's first real taste of the rapid-fire, long-distance travel that every MLS team endures during the season.
Paunovic could employ one of those two veterans alongside Dax McCarty (who has played every minute of the season so far), with Michael de Leeuw slotting in at the No. 10 role, as he did on Saturday. Still, we will see some of the Fire's young guns enter the mix at some point - third-year player Matt Polster can feature at both defensive midfield and right back, while rookie draft pick Brandt Bronico and academy product Djordje Mihailovic have also seen limited minutes in central and attacking midfield this season.
Suspensions: None Int'l Duty: None Injury Report: OUT - M John Goossens (right ankle surgery); QUESTIONABLE - M Juninho (right ankle sprain) Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Matt Lampson - Drew Conner, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Brandon Vincent - Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty - Luis Solignac, Michael de Leeuw, David Accam - Nemanja Nikolic
Notes: The Fire are unbeaten in their last eight games at home (5-0-3), scoring multiple goals in seven of those eight games and outscoring their opposition 18-8 in that span.
Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni may have hit upon something with his shakeup of his formation last week, opting for a 4-4-2 instead of a 4-2-3-1 and receiving his team's highest scoring output all season (and their second clean sheet) in return. The question now is, does he stick with it?
Considering the Rapids generated their three goals against San Jose from a season-high total of four shots on target, the outside observer would be tempted to say yes. Gashi, who initially lined up on the right wing, was the prime beneficiary of the switch, his two shots on target (both goals) matching his season high as he feasted on the space cleared in front of him by Colorado's physical forward duo of Alan Gordon (two assists) and Dominique Badji (one goal, one assist). You can hear Badji reflect on his own performance and the switch to 4-4-2 below:
As @dbadji14 tells @jordangeli, the switch to a 4-4-2 paid huge dividends for the #Rapids96. pic.twitter.com/jg0yiIKFzv - Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) May 15, 2017
Suspensions: None Int'l Duty: None Injury Report: OUT - D Axel Sjoberg (hamstring injury), M Bismark Adjei-Boateng (back injury); QUESTIONABLE - F Caleb Calvert (concussion) Projected Starting XI (4-4-2): Tim Howard - Mekeil Williams, Bobby Burling, Jared Watts, Eric Miller - Shkelzen Gahsi, Micheal Azira, Dillon Powers, Mohammed Saeid - Alan Gordon, Dominique Badji
Notes: Colorado have lost their last five away regular season matches, scoring just one goal in that span. Over their last 13 road games, the Rapids have conceded 1.9 goals per match and recorded just one shutout.
While this series runs pretty even overall, the facts leave little doubt - the Rapids have found little love when traveling to Chicago.
Overall: Chicago 18 wins (63 goals) ... Colorado 14 wins (52 goals) ... Ties 9 At Chicago: Chicago 15 wins (42 goals) ... Colorado 4 wins (20 goals) ... Ties 2 Referees
Referee: Armando Villarreal Assistant Referees: Corey Parker, Peter Balciunas Fourth Official: Geoff Gamble