Honours have been pretty much even in head to heads between Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire over the past couple of seasons, and both clubs have experienced indifferent starts to the current campaign. Both are also in search of badly needed points!
Impact is a point ahead of The Fire with a game more played, however tellingly the Canadian outfit has played only 3 matches at home (6 away). Chicago has played in front of home support 5 times, with only 3 road-trips.
Along with LA Galaxy and a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic however, the Reds have lost most games at home this season in MLS (3).
If poor home form lets Paunovic’s men down, then results from two recent away games are enough to make people sit up and take notice. A 2-2 draw at BMO Field after being 2-down, was preceded by an excellent 2-1 success at Red Bull Arena, Chicago being the only side to avoid defeat at the venue this season (apart from the Continental Champions).
Aleksander Katai a Serbian international and preseason signing from La Liga club, Alaves, and Nemanja Nikolic, last season’s top scorer in MLS got the goals that sunk the Red Bulls, and are two players Impact will need to keep a close eye on, come Wednesday evening. Just this week Nikolic announced his retirement from the Hungarian national team, for whom he had won 27 caps (6 goals), to concentrate on MLS-play with Chicago.
Bastien Schweinsteiger has proven his versatility this season along the team’s spine, playing in the middle of a back three, as well as further forward. Dax McCarty is of course part of the Chicago furniture, and indeed scored a headed goal against the Impact when the sides met in preseason in Florida.
Impact won that one 2-1, but of course it’s useless as a form-guide to what we can expect, Wednesday.
Although still leaking far too many goals, Impact will travel with confidence after securing its third win of the season. The last time they won at home, they followed up with a road win at Seattle. Toyota Park, Chicago, is a venue that has not been unfruitful for the Quebecers in 7 previous encounters. They’ve managed to come away with at least a point on four of those occasions, so, coupled with Chicago’s inconsistent home form, there should be no fear going into this one.
If Rod Fanni is sufficiently recovered, I expect him to slot into the centre of a back five to combat the twin spearhead of Nikolic and Katai, who are likely to have Schweinsteiger tucked in, just behind.
The decision for Remi Garde then becomes one of either retaining Saturday’s central defensive pairing either side of Fanni, or, in the event Camacho is also available for selection, replacing either one of Saturday’s partnership, with the Frenchman. This also opens up the possibility of Raitala finally moving to his natural left-back position at the expense of Daniel Lovitz.
The Fire has shown good road form recently, with both coach Paunovic and the influential Schweinsteiger, optimistic there are signs of improvement that cannot be ignored, despite the most recent weekend setback against a very good Atlanta United. Says the German -
“Obviously, when you lose it’s always a step back, but we played a very good team. We have to accept that they have some very good players. We had very good situations in the first half, we won the ball, we created chances, we didn’t score a goal. I think (we) could have been 1-0 up at half-time and it would have been different. Small details decide games and unfortunately we couldn’t score that goal and when Atlanta had one chance they scored the goal.”
A prediction? Chicago will go into this one as favourites. Much depends on how much momentum Montreal can carry forward from the weekend, and if Jackson-Hamel and Edwards can continue where they left off. Piatti, as always of course, could be the key.
I fancy Impact to score, as they have in all but one match this season. Chicago will need at least two to win, not an unsurmountable task with a couple of top strikers, against an Impact defence lacking solidity.
It could end up 3-2, and I think Chicago will win, but won’t be too surprised if Impact comes back home with a point.
Impact Projected Starting XI
(3-5-2, right to left)
GK: Evan Bush — Chris Duvall, Victor Cabrera, Rod Fanni, Jukka Raitala, Daniel Lovitz — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider, Raheem Edwards — Ignacio Piatti, Anthony Jackson-Hamel,
Chicago Fire Projected Starting XI(4-3-1-2, right to left)
GK: Richard Sanchez — Kevin Ellis, Johan Kappelhof, Grant Lillard, Brandon Vincent —Dax McCarty, Mohammed Adams, Elliott Collier - Bastian Schweinsteiger — Aleksandar Katai, Nemanja Nikolic