The Chicago Fire are saying so long to Toyota Park for the next three weeks, coincidentally following their three-match stay at home.
After a draw and two wins in the span of three weeks at Bridgeview, the Men in Red are hitting the road for the first time since March 18 when they were absolutely manhandled down in Georgia. At the time, the 4-0 loss at the hands of an Atlanta expansion team seemed like an indication that this season wasn’t slated to be much more optimistic than the last frustrating few years.
However, after a huge transfer in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the emergence of a new goal-scorer by the name of Nemanja Nikolic, and seven points in the last three games, things are definitely looking up for the Fire as they head into Friday’s match in Toronto.
If the Fire want to remain among the top three teams in the Eastern Conference standings, they’ll have to take at least four points away from this road trip. Besides Toronto, the club will also be squaring up against the NY Red Bulls and the Galaxy before reuniting with fans at Toyota Park in May.
Although it won’t be an easy three-game away run, beginning the road trip against Michael Bradley’s Toronto FC is a good place to start. Toronto has won only one match this season, due in part to Sebastian Giovinco’s quiet start after the Italian striker suffered a leg contusion against Philadelphia in early March.
Still, he is expected to play this Friday, and Jozy Altidore’s backheel assist to give Giovinco his first goal of the season a couple of weeks ago is a reminder of how dangerous the duo can be.
The Fire are not without their own threats, though, and their last match hosting New England found Dax McCarty and Schweinsteiger finally finding their groove together in the midfield. It was a somewhat grinding three-match process to arrive at this point of apparent fluidity between the pair, as head coach Veljko Paunovic experimented with a different midfield lineup and formation in each of the three previous matches since the team acquired Schweinsteiger.
Of course, the Fire’s domination in the midfield and big 3-0 win against the Revs last week was slightly skewed by the fact that opposing defender Je-Vaughn Watson was sent off early in the match. Nonetheless, the Fire’s newfound attacking trifecta between Nikolic, McCarty, and Schweinsteiger will offer Toronto a good deal to worry about, as will the Fire’s back-to-back clean sheets in the last two matches.
Moreover, Chicago attacking midfielder David Accam is sure to be a constant thorn in the side, whether he’s scoring goals or fulfilling his new speciality in assisting them. His coming off the bench against the Revs last week led to a Fire goal within minutes, with the Ghanaian placing a perfectly weighted through ball in the path of Nikolic for the three-goal lead.
Regardless of who is sitting or starting, or which lineup and formation Paunovic decides to implement against Toronto, the Fire will expect their midfielders to continue feeding Nikolic, their defenders to extend their clean sheet run, and will look to further solidify themselves as a rightful top-three team in the Eastern Conference.