Chicago has struggled this season, especially as of late. Their last win in the league came about a month ago, and they’ve only won two out of their first ten MLS matches. The Fire are now the 2nd-worst team in the entire Eastern Conference, and the fanbase is really starting to panic. They fired head coach Ezra Hendrickson on Monday, so it'll be interesting to see how different things look with interim coach Frank Klopas.
It’s been a very different story for St. Louis, even though they’re only an expansion side. They made a dream start to life in this league, winning their first five games of the campaign. They’ve cooled off since then, but City are still in 2nd place in the Western Conference.
How we got here
The Fire had a Chicago derby in the previous round, as they hosted amateur side Chicago House AC. The Fire were heavy favorites going into the contest, and they took care of business with a pretty comprehensive victory. Kacper Przybyłko opened the scoring midway through the first half, and then goals from Kendall Burks either side of the break sealed the result for the hosts. It was a very professional performance.
St. Louis had a slightly tougher matchup since they were at home to USL League One outfit Union Omaha, but they won in even more emphatic fashion. A goal in the 3rd minute put them ahead early, and the contest became a blowout after three goals in the span of 18 minutes to start the second half. Each side added another before the night was done, which meant that the match ended in a 5-1 win for City.
Chicago were without the likes of Carlos Terán, Victor Bezerra, and Chris Mueller this past weekend. The first two will almost certainly be unavailable once again, but there’s a chance that Mueller will be able to appear in some capacity. Brian Gutiérrez was forced to come off the bench due to a minor issue, and Rafael Czichos left the game early after getting hurt, but both should be ok for this Tuesday’s contest.
João Klauss and Joakim Nilsson were unavailable on Saturday night for St. Louis, while Rasmus Alm and Njabulo Blom were doubts, although the latter was included in the matchday 18 at least.
Chicago Fire: Brady, Souquet, Burks, Omsberg, M. Navarro, Giménez, F. Navarro, Gutiérrez, Shaqiri, Haile-Selassie, Kamara
St. Louis City: Bürki, Nerwinski, Bartlett, Parker, Nelson, Löwen, Perez, Vassilev, Ostrak, Gioacchini, Pompeu
Ones to watch
Everyone knows how his campaign had been going up to last week. The homegrown was a revelation, taking over the number 10 spot due to Xherdan Shaqiri’s injury issues. The DP returned to the middle of the park when he was healthy again for a game, but he was back on the sidelines the following match, which opened up the position for Guti.
The first key moment came during the week when former head coach Ezra Hendrickson confirmed that Gutiérrez will not be released for the U-20 World Cup this month. Many were expecting him to be a key player for the youth U.S. side, but Chicago decided that they will need him more.
That led fans to thinking that the youngster would be a key part of the Fire’s lineup. However, when the starting eleven was announced for this past weekend’s contest against Nashville, his name was amongst the substitutes. He did come in at halftime, but it was still a concerning thing to see.
Then again, there may have been reasons for that. In the post-game press conference Hendrickson said that Gutiérrez was dealing with a minor injury issue. There’s also some belief that Chicago was resting certain players for this Open Cup contest, and he may have simply been one of those guys.
Either way, there’s now a lot more pressure on him and his team. The attacker simply has to be a vital part of the Fire lineup going forward, and he really needs to be playing in the number 10 role where he’s best. If that doesn’t happen, then what was the point of keeping him around?
Chicago also has to start picking up results. They really value the Open Cup, so that makes this game a must-win. Then they’ll have to start securing victories in MLS if they want to avoid slipping away from the playoff picture already.
With all that in mind, Gutiérrez will be a really interesting player to keep an eye on.
It's hero time for Célio Pompeu.
The Brazilian will likely lead the line ahead of another Brazilian, João Klauss, who is still injured. Klauss has been superb this year, grabbing five goals already while also adding two assists to his tally. Pompeu, meanwhile, hasn’t been as great.
That's not entirely his fault, of course. He’s not played nearly as much, and his only MLS start of the campaign came this past weekend. He has two starts in other competitions, one in MLS Next Pro, and the other came in the previous round of the Open Cup.
That contest is what will give St. Louis confidence ahead of this Tuesday’s match. Pompeu was brilliant against Omaha, setting up three goals on the afternoon. He didn’t get on the scoresheet himself, but he had a stellar showing nonetheless, and it led to his side advancing to the next round.
There’s certainly reason to believe that he’ll put on a similar sort of performance on this occasion. Sure, the opposition will be tougher, but that won’t scare the forward. He recently grabbed his first MLS goal, slamming a shot into the roof of the net against the Portland Timbers.
A good game here could be key in his development. Although he’s not as young as the aforementioned Brian Gutiérrez, Pompeu is still only 23-years-old, and his next birthday isn’t until the very end of the year. If he can continue to grow and improve, then he could become a key part of City’s future.
Does that start here with a goal or two? Only time will tell.
Last time out
This will be the first time the two sides have ever faced off.
How to watch
The match kicks off at 7 pm central time, and it will be streamed on Bleacher Report.