The Chicago Fire take on NYCFC tonight at Soldier Field as the team finishes the first-half of the MLS regular season. After losing four of its first five matches, the Fire have only lost two of their previous seven.
That stretch includes an extremely hard-fought point earned at Subaru Park this past weekend as the Fire drew the Philadelphia Union while playing down a man for over an hour. The draw resulted in the Fire's first points away from Soldier Field this season.
"Credit to the team, great effort," head coach Raphael Wicky said of his team's performance after the match. "I'm proud of what they have done because it's not easy, the situation where we are, where last week the results didn't come and then you're coming here and you're winning 1-0. And then you go down a man and immediately concede the draw. So, great reaction."
The fact that the red card received by defender Wyatt Omsberg was controversial made the situation all the more frustrating. "For me, it wasn't even a foul," defender Francisco Calvo said. "I mean, for me, the referee made not the best decision. But what are you going to say to the referee in that situation? They are always right, and we can't do anything."
But it was Calvo, playing his first game since returning from Gold Cup duty with the Costa Rican national team, who led the Fire back line after the Union scored directly after the Omsberg red card. The captain was all over the place; blocking shots, defending crosses, and keeping the back line compact and composed as he played his best game of the season and kept the Fire level.
And once again, it was goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth that continues his excellent season, making some big saves himself. "Bobby is a fantastic goalkeeper," Calvo continued. "For me, he is really, really underrated in this league."
Fire Must be Weary of NYCFC Attack
Next up is the first of a three-match homestand as NYCFC comes to town. One of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, NYC currently sits fourth in the East, but a win against the Fire would bring them to second place.
The Fire must watch out for the NYC front line. Jesús Medina and Valentín Castellanos lead an attack that has scored the second-most goals of all MLS clubs (29) and also has the most goals-per-90 (1.93) and xG (30.3).
The Pigeons' attack is also very balanced, with five different players logging three goals or more so far this season, and very efficient as the club has the second-highest shots-on-target percentage (39.2%).
One way the Fire could potentially stifle NYC's crisp, concise attack is by continuing to effectively press their opponent. NYC is in the bottom half of short, medium, and long passing completion percentage, meaning they tend to strike quickly instead of playing methodically and building out from the back.
The Fire, on the other hand, are one of the more effective pressing teams in MLS, ranking 5th in successful pressure percentage (30.4%). While the Fire defense has historically had a mistake in them and have struggled with fast-paced teams, a confident, strong pressing game could get NYC out of their rhythm and force them into turnovers.
Can Confidence Come of Union Draw?
Yes, the Fire collected their first away point of the season, but they still haven't won away from Soldier Field since October of 2019. By the time the Fire play their next road game, it will have been 681 days since their last win away from Soldier Field.
The Fire do not have to worry about playing a road match for a few weeks as they embark on a three-match homestand. However, after that homestand, 11 of the club's final 15 matches are away from Soldier Field.
While the club will certainly need to begin winning away matches if they still have any playoff hopes, the club's recent road history places that much more emphasis on the upcoming homestand.
With their backs against the wall and down a man for over an hour, the Fire remain composed, compact and confident, playing for each other when they needed each other the most.
Calvo wants the Fire to be there for their manager when he needs them the most. "We are with him all the way and with his family. You know, they are having a really, really tough situation. But we are going to keep praying for him and his family. He deserved the point [against Philadelphia] and he deserves more, and hopefully on Wednesday we give him a good win."