In three consecutive games at home – the only such stretch Chicago fans will see this 2017 season – the Fire have wrapped their bout at Toyota Park with a convincing 3-0 win hosting the New England Revolution. It’s true, the scoreline of the team’s last match at home was somewhat slanted by a short-handed opposition, as the Revs’ Je-Vaughn Watson was shown his second yellow in the 27′.
Still, the three-game stretch at home saw a vast improvement for a Fire side that were in need of some positive results, especially following their catastrophic 4-0 defeat at Atlanta in the middle of March. Before the Men in Red now depart for a three-match sequence on the road, let’s take a step back and have a quick look at what the results from these last three home matches might mean for Veljko Paunovic’s club going forward.
An Emerging Trifecta
The introduction of Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago was slightly controversial among Fire fans and soccer analysts, but despite the pre-match chatter, the World Cup champion has immediately proven himself as a valuable asset in the Chicago Fire midfield. Since his arrival three games ago, he has netted himself two goals and an assist.
Schweinsteiger’s place alongside the Red Bulls’ ex-captain Dax McCarty took a game or so for the pair to find their footing playing well next to one another, but in the the last two matches against Columbus and Montreal the central midfielders have complemented each other well. The 2017 newcomers have been able to feed Chicago strikers, the most efficient of which has been Nemanja Nikolic – another recent addition to the team, by the way.
Together, this midfield-to-forward trifecta has accounted for 5 goals and 3 assists in the last three home matches, and their chemistry is only growing.
Rise of Solignac
Joining the Fire in the middle of the 2016 season, and finishing with a pair of goals in 13 appearances, Luis Solignac has slowly crept into Chicago’s starting lineup.
In Bastian Schweinsteiger’s debut on April 1, Solignac replaced Nikolic in the 75′ before scoring a huge late goal in stoppage time, helping the club snag a point away from a game they looked prepared to lose up until that moment. He sat the bench against Columbus, but found himself in the starting lineup last match, one that saw his pass in the 45′ set up Schweinsteiger for the game’s first goal.
Solignac’s place as a starter last match was largely seen as a replacement for David Accam. Usually a natural goal-scorer, Accam’s limelight has been largely stripped by the emerging finishing prowess of Nikolic (not to mention the spotlight’s instant shift to international superstar Schweinsteiger upon his sudden acquisition).
Despite his relative lack of goals, it was Accam’s wonderful curling ball from the right flank that gave Sebastian his first goal with the Fire in their match against Montreal. Moreover, his substitution onto the field in the 72′ produced instant results, as just a minute later it was again Accam’s pass that netted Nikolic his second goal of the game.
Although he hasn’t turned up this season as the scoring machine he’s been known for, his two assists in these last three matches haven’t gone unnoticed, and perhaps we should expect Paunovic to begin playing Accam in positions that cater to the Ghanaian’s newfound vision and sharp passing.
The end of the three-game home bout has given Fire fans a sense of optimism they haven’t felt in years. Hope for continued improvement will carry on into the upcoming road stretch, the first match of which will be at a winless-at-home Toronto FC. The Fire have yet to earn three points from an away match, and this game might be the chance for them to do so, and to furthermore prove their newfound right to be revered among the top MLS teams.