By Tyler Trent
Karol Świderski firing a shot against the Chicago Fire last season (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC; Photo taken by Taylor Banner)
What We Have Seen So Far
The Chicago Fire will make a midweek appearance at Bank of America Stadium on May 17th. The Fire sits in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, with one point separating them from Charlotte FC.
The Fire is coming off back-to-back games against St. Louis City FC. The first was a US Open Cup match where the Fire beat a rotated St. Louis squad 2-1 to advance to the Round of 16. The second, where the Chicago Fire beat the newest MLS side 1-0 at Soldier Field. After head coach Ezra Hendrickson was fired on May 8, the Fire has pulled out back-to-back wins under interim manager Frank Klopas.
Out: Jonathan Dean Questionable: Victor Bezerra, Maren Haile-Selassie, Rafael Czichos
*This injury report was pulled from MLSsoccer.com (updated 5/12/23)
Players to Watch
Kei Kamara – Kamara stands as the third-highest goal scorer in MLS history with 143 across ten different teams since 2006. He’s a player that is going to find the back of the net regardless of the team he plays for. Limiting his opportunities in front of the goal with a depleted defense will be crucial for Charlotte FC to secure a crucial win against a team behind them in the table. Kamara already had four goals in seven appearances this season for the Fire.
Xherdan Shaqiri – While he is the most well-known player on the Fire roster, Shaqiri hasn’t had the start to the season he would have hoped for. With only 6 matches played this season due to injury, Shaqiri is looking to get on track this season now that he is healthy.
Brian Gutiérrez – Gutiérrez has made a great start to the season as a 19-year-old. He has been a regular starter and provided 3 assists on the season. Gutiérrez has covered a lot of ground in the attacking half this season for Chicago, so Charlotte will have to keep an eye on his position as it changes throughout the match.
Chicago Fire’s Starting XI
The Chicago Fire ran the below lineup in their Open Cup match against St. Louis, we will likely see something similar in Charlotte this week, but we may see the inclusion of Chris Mueller into the lineup in place of Maren Hailse-Selassie. This will likely be dependent on Hailse-Selassie's injury as he was left out of the starting eleven this past weekend against St. Louis City in their MLS match.
Chicago Fire's starting lineup vs. St. Louis City in the US Open Cup (Graphic from MLSsoccer.com)
Based on the passing network from this past week's match, Chicago is playing Shaqiri in the attacking midfield role with a double pivot behind him. This is something that wasn't being done earlier on as Gutiérrez had been filling in at the center attacking midfield role. Kamara has played as a solo target man at the top for most of the season looking for service from the three attackers behind him.
Chicago Fire's passing network from last week's MLS game against St. Louis City (Graphic from MLSsoccer.com)
The Chicago Fire has not been overly dominant in terms of touches in the attacking half. They have conceded a decent amount of control along their left flank. This could be an area Charlotte hone in on attacking this Wednesday. Unfortunately, this might be more difficult with Kamil Jóźwiak's recent injury.
Chicago Fire's zones of control* for the 2023 season (Graphic from theanalyst.com)
Outlook for 2023
The Chicago Fire is a team that will likely sit near the bottom of the standings this year, but still stay within reach of the playoffs as well. The addition of Kamara is proving to be a valuable move for the Fire, so if they get Shaqiri to contribute more to the scoreline they can climb the table.
If Charlotte FC has aspirations of building on recent results and making the playoffs this season, a win against Chicago is a must as they are currently in direct competition near the bottom of the table.
**For the zones of control, blue symbolizes areas on the field where Chicago Fire has had at least 55% of total touches. Red represents areas where their opponents have had at least 55% of total touches.