After two weeks of no MLS play during the Gold Cup group stages, the league finally picked back up again on Wednesday with an array of fixtures taking place around the country. The most notable feature was a draw between Toronto and NYCFC, the Fire’s two biggest competitors in the East and Supporter’s Shield race. Thanks for dropping points y’all!!
Now, it’s finally time for the boys to continue showing why they’re the best team in the league*, as they travel to the Bronx on Saturday to take on NYCFC themselves. The Sky Blues sit a mere four points behind the Fire in both tables, so a positive result will be crucial for the two sides.
*Although we’re technically a point behind Toronto in first, we’ve played one less game than them, which is a big time advantage.
**Also, if I say we’re the best, that means we’re the best. That’s the way it works ’round here, folks.
Let’s take a look at how both teams are shaping up for the weekend ahead.
Last game for our boys was way back in early July: a somewhat disappointing, yet definitely positive 2-2 draw away at Portland. Disappointing because at one point we were up 2-1 heading into the final stretch, but positive in the sense that good results on the road are hard to come by in the MLS.
A two week stretch without competitive gameplay can do some significant damage to any team, let alone one that’s in as good of form as the Fire. The one positive aspect that comes out of it, however, is that the team has been able to continue preparing for life without Dax McCarty, who is still on national team duty at the Gold Cup. Pauno will be looking towards Juninho, who hasn’t been seeing as much action as he would’ve liked to in recent weeks, to step in and fill the void. Something tells me the three-time MLS Cup winner will have no problem doing so.
Other than that, the only thing to worry about is shaking off any rust within the first ten minutes of the match. A good start will be crucial, so settling right back into top form from the get go will be the number one priority.
As I mentioned up above, NYCFC are hot on our tails. Although they slipped up on Wednesday against Toronto, their main man David Villa is in fine form and can undoubtedly change their fortunes in an instant. Combine that with the fact that they’re relatively healthy, and don’t lose anyone to the national team (one win for us already, cheers Dax), and they’re sure to come out swinging for the fences at Yankee Stadium.
With both teams boasting high-flying offenses, this game is going to be won/lost in the midfield. City’s midfield has struggled of late, which is why the Fire are in the driver’s seat to dominate the middle third of the field, and give their forwards the opportunity to do what they do best: score.
Easier said than done, however. With most of the spotlight set on Villa, it’s easy to forget about youngster Jack Harrison, who has a keen eye for collecting the ball deep in the midfield to create opportunities in the final third. If he can do this on a consistent basis, we’ll be in trouble.
As I’ve said before, positive results on the road are difficult to come by on this side of the pond. With that being said, I believe we have the stronger of the two midfields even without the ginga ninja, which will go a long way over 90 minutes.
I see us picking up three points on Saturday, but a draw wouldn’t be terribly disappointing seeing as though it’s our first game back from the break.
Alrighty, that’ll be all for this weekend’s preview. Check back again for some post-game thoughts after the weekend, and make sure you find a nice spot to cozy up and watch the boys get back to their winning ways.