Chicago were all but eliminated from postseason contention during the week after they lost 3-1 to CF Montréal. It wasn’t the worst performance from the Fire this season, but they were simply second best on the day, and they deserved to lose when all was said and done. They’re now six points behind the 7th and final seed in the East, and they’ve played an extra game as well, so it might just be a matter of time until they’re officially ruled out. Until then, though, they might as well fight for all the points that they can.
Charlotte are in a similar position, but they do have a bit more hope since they’ve got an extra game to go. They saved their season with a big win at the weekend, as they beat the reigning MLS Cup champions NYCFC at home. Daniel Ríos gave the Crowns a very early lead, and even though they went down a man near the start of the second half, they were able to hold on to secure the much-needed three points. That result won’t really matter if they don’t win again here, so the pressure will certainly be on them to perform.
Chicago are still going through an injury crisis, as the likes of Gastón Giménez, Fabian Herbers, Stanislav Ivanov, Wyatt Omsberg, Kacper Przybyłko, Chris Mueller, and Jairo Torres are all unavailable for selection.
Things aren’t as bad for Charlotte, but they’ll still be without Vinicius Mello, Adam Armour, Guzmán Corujo, and Christian Fuchs for the contest, while Kamil Jóźwiak is a doubt.
Chicago Fire: Slonina, Sekulić, Terán, Czichos, M. Navarro, Pineda, F. Navarro, Shaqiri, Gutiérrez, Reynolds, Durán
Charlotte FC: Kahlina, Afful, Malanda, Walkes, Byrne, Bronico, Jones, Jóźwiak, Świderski, Vargas, Ríos
Ones to watch
Screw it, let the kids cook.
Chicago’s season isn’t technically over just yet, but they’ll need a number of miracles to even squeak into the playoffs. That’s not going to happen, so the team might as well try to make the most of their remaining games since they don’t really matter too much.
That’s why there should be an added emphasis on their youngsters, namely Brian Gutiérrez.
The 19-year-old has been a pretty consistent figure in the lineup this campaign. He’s not necessarily a starter, as he comes off the bench when the team is fully healthy, but he’s started several games due to the club’s injury issues going forward. His year has been solid yet unspectacular, with a goal and three assists to his name.
Those numbers have come in a secondary sort of role. When he’s on the pitch, the focus is on his older and more marquee teammates, like Xherdan Shaqiri, Jairo Torres, and Chris Mueller. They are the ones getting the ball, which forces Gutiérrez to feed off of the leftover scraps.
In order to see what exactly he has to offer, the Fire should give the American the keys to the car. Play him up the middle instead of leaving him out wide. Get him the ball when he’s in space, and have everyone else make runs off him. Chuck him in the deep end and see if he sinks or swims.
Gutiérrez is clearly a talented player, but fans haven’t really seen him at his best this season. Maybe they’d finally get to see that this weekend if he’s put in control of proceedings.
You’ll never know if you never try.
Another former Chicago homegrown returns to the Windy City, and this time it will be Brandt Bronico going up against his former side.
His tenure with the Fire was a lot more of a quiet one. Spending four seasons there, the American never really got a chance in the starting lineup. He was a consistent option off the bench, and he did get the nod in some games, but he was never given an extended run in the first team. He played less and less as the years went by, and he was eventually let go by the club.
That allowed Charlotte to pick him up for free, even though they technically weren’t an MLS side just yet. That meant Bronico had to play for the Charlotte Independence in USL League One for a year, but after that spell was over, it was time for a return to the big leagues.
The midfielder has been one of the Crowns' most reliable players this campaign. He’s started all but one of their games, and he’s gone the full 90 minutes in each of their last 25 matches. He’s only got a few goal contributions to his name, but that’s not really his job since he plays deeper in midfield anyway.
That’s where he’ll almost certainly be once again this weekend. Considering Chicago’s injury issues, especially in the middle of the park, there’s a good chance that Bronico will be able to help Charlotte control the midfield. If he can do that, then it’ll just make things easier for everyone else, both going forward and at the back.
The Crowns need him, and Bronico will definitely want to get one over on the club that never really believed in him. That could lead to a special night at Soldier Field.
Last time out
It’s been about a month and a half since the last time these sides faced off, which was the first-ever meeting between the two. It was certainly an eventful one.
Charlotte, who were at home, opened the scoring after just 25 seconds. A defensive turnover led to Jaylin Lindsey getting the ball on the wing, and he made the most of the gift by whipping in a beautiful cross to Yordy Reyna in the area. The forward did the rest, heading the ball into the bottom corner.
Instead of falling apart, Chicago bounced back, and they actually took the lead themselves midway through the second half thanks to two goals in the span of four minutes. The first came via Kacper Przybyłko, who pounced on a rebound to slam home from close range. Then it was Federico Navarro’s turn to find the back of the net, and he did so with an excellent volley that bounced just past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper.
Their advantage wouldn’t last the rest of the half, though. The hosts equalized through Karol Świderski, who managed to somehow get the ball over the line from a few yards out.
It looked like Charlotte was set to take back control of the contest following the break, but that’s not what happened. It was actually Chicago who scored minutes into the second half, which proved to be the matchwinner. Xherdan Shaqiri played Kacper Przybyłko into space on the counter, and he finished off the move, cutting inside before burying a low shot into the far corner.
That was it in terms of the scoring, with the Fire holding on to secure three vital points at that stage of the campaign.
How to watch
The match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CDT, and it will air live on WGN TV and chicagofirefc.com for fans in Chicago and on WAXN, Telemundo, and CLTFC Live for fans in Charlotte. Anyone else in the United States will be able to watch the action unfold on ESPN+.