The Chicago Fire begin their 2021 MLS campaign as they host the New England Revolution at Soldier Field on Saturday night.
The long-awaited season opener will see fans in the stadium for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. What makes it all the more special is that fans will be watching the Fire at Soldier Field for the first time since 2006.
While Saturday night’s game will be a monumental one for the fans and the club alike, the Fire will have to be laser-focused as the test they face will not be an easy one to pass. In order to get some more insight on the Revolution, who made the 2020 Eastern Conference final, I spoke with Greg Johnstone from the Revolution Recap podcast.
High Expectations In The Northeast
“We have this vision that if we’re healthy, the team we had such high expectations for is the team we’re expecting again [this season]”.
Johnstone believes the team we all saw in the playoffs — the team that made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals as a #8 seed — is the team MLS fans should be expecting to see throughout the 2021 season.
The Maine-based Revs fan does have a point. Even though New England underperformed throughout most of the 2020 regular season, they turned it on at the right time in the playoffs. It was no coincidence that the Revolution’s best player, Carles Gil, returned just in time for the stretch run.
The return of Gil from injury (Achilles) was a massive boost to the Revs, who truly showed their full potential in last year’s playoffs as they beat Montreal Impact in the play-in round before edging top-seeded Philadelphia Union and Orlando City en route to a loss against eventual champion Columbus Crew.
Importance of Carles Gil
Having a healthy Gil for the entire regular season will be ever-important for the Revolution and certainly makes the side one of the best in the Eastern Conference. “He’s our Tom Brady”, Johnstone says. “[Without him], there was a dark hole at left-wing that had a rotating cast of characters…The expectation for him is to be an MLS Best XI player. If the Revs are a top-three team in the East this season, our expectation is that he will get some MVP votes.”
But one player can’t carry a team through an entire season. So who needs to step up for the Revs alongside Gil? To Johnstone, it’s certainly Adam Buksa.
“He had a bit of a rough first year. He had a long string of games where he didn’t score and fell out of favor with a lot of the fans.” Johnstone continued, “A lot of people wondered if it was a waste of designated player spot.”
But the Polish striker has had a good preseason, scoring three goals, and he will have to keep that scoring cadence up in this “show me season”.
How Can the Fire Succeed?
The Fire were one of the better attacking teams in the league last season. The club’s expected goal difference was +3.5, good for fifth in the East last season. But it’s a story all too familiar to Fire fans, who have seen constant opportunities wasted in front of goal combined with poor defensive mistakes.
Taking their chances will always be important, but even more so against a side whose main weakness lies at the back. “The pairing is a little questionable”, Johnstone says about the Revs’ center-back partnership of Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler, “especially Andrew Farrell. He has some momentary lapses.” Plus, Johnstone questions the overall depth at the position.
The Revolution conceded a ton of goals from set pieces and struggled with balls in the box, something that worries Johnstone when it comes to the Fire’s leading scorer, Robert Berić. “He is certainly the biggest concern. I think he can score at any time against our center-backs.”
New England Revolution: 4-2-3-1
- Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
- Defenders: DeJuan Jones – Andrew Farrell – Henry Kessler – Brandon Bye
- Midfielders: Maciel – Matt Polster
- Attackers: Carles Gil – Gustavo Bou – Teal Bunbury
- Striker: Adam Buksa
Chicago Fire: 4-2-3-1
- Goalkeeper: Bobby Shuttleworth
- Defenders: Jonathan Bornstein – Mauricio Pineda – Francisco Calvo – Boris Sekulić
- Midfielders: Gastón Giménez – Álvaro Medrán
- Attackers: Ignacio Aliseda – Luka Stojanović
- Striker: Robert Berić
Greg: 2-1 Revolution
Justin: 2-1 Revolution