The Chicago Fire finished the 2015 season at the very bottom of the table, finishing with a mere 30 points in 34 games played. A lack of offensive firepower, coupled with a disorganized team in defense, led to the Fire posting a goal differential of -15.
However, when the Fire did show some signs of life in 2015, they often came courtesy of David Accam. The Ghanaian winger showed flashes of brilliance in 2015, often burning past defenders with his pace: certainly his most useful skill to the Fire. This was never more obvious in a play earlier this year, when after a ball was played over the top of the Orlando City SC defense, Accam simply won the race to the loose ball as Seb Hines stumbled to the ground in an attempt to stop him.
Other than Accam's pace, however, the Fire's attack doesn't have very much to offer. With the trading of Harry Shipp to the Impact, the Fire lost their main source of offensive creativity. The fire often play in a formation resembling a 4-2-3-1. Matt Polster, a 22 year-old American, plays in the defensive midfield for Chicago, and is very capable of hitting precise long balls to attacking players Kennedy Igboananike, a natural striker who often plays wing, or Gilberto, the former Toronto FC Designated Player.
Despite their flaws in attack, the Fire currently find themselves in the East's final playoff spot. This is mainly due to their renaissance both in defense and in goal. The Fire selected Jonathan Campbell 12th overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, and has become a mainstay at the centre-back for Chicago. The young defender has become an early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, with his team conceding only five times in as many games.
Goaltender Matt Lampson has gone through a career resurgence. Previously serving as back-up to Steve Clark in Columbus, the 26 year old enters the meeting against Montreal coming off three straight clean sheets.
This defensive progress is promising for new head coach and former MLS player Veljko Paunovic. He has made it a priority for his team to shut opponents out of games, which can sometimes lead to unentertaining soccer at the other end, as more players are told to stay back and support the defense.
If the Impact are to get three points in Chicago this weekend, it will be essential to break down the defensive block of the Fire by maintaining possession. The Impact have proven themselves capable of putting together a passing move this season, and patience will be key in unlocking the Fire's reinvented defense.
Who are you watching on Chicago?
Can the Impact get another win on the road?