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If we’re being honest, there really is no such thing as a “must-win” Major League Soccer match in mid-May. We’re only one-third of the way through the 2022 MLS season, after all. But when the Fire host FC Cincinnati this Saturday at 7 p.m., it will, at the very least, feel a lot like a must win for Chicago.
The Fire have gone nearly two months without a victory, the last coming March 19 against Sporting Kansas City. Since then, the wheels have started to come off. Dumb yellow cards and sloppy defending have crept in to a squad that started the season incredibly well-drilled and tough defensively. With three straight on the road to follow this match, including two against the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, the Fire could really, really use three points.
“We are not going to look past this game this weekend,” Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson said this week. “So for that, I just want to say this is a very important game for us. We have taken a skid. We have been on a bit of a skid recently, and we just need to get back to our way of playing where we are difficult to break down, we are difficult to score (against), and then continue to improve on the attacking side of things because the last three or four games or so have not been really good for us. But, there’s no panic, we know that we can turn this thing around and the plan is to start that on Saturday.”
Making matters worse, this is not the same wooden spoon-contending FC Cincinnati side of years past. New boss Pat Noonan has his team fifth in the East, winners of three straight in MLS play (although they were spanked 5-1 by the Revolution in the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night). Brandon Vazquez is second in the league in goals scored, with six, and leads in non-penalty xG, at 5.09. And, Lucho Acosta’s 42 key passes are far and away the best in MLS, ahead of Carles Gil’s 33.
In other words, the Fire had better be their buttoned-up, hard-to-score-on selves from the first month of the season. Cincinnati will punish sloppiness.
After playing the second half last week, Chris Mueller is a good bet to start out wide, and Jairo Torres should get at least some minutes as his injury continues to improve. Gastón Giménez is questionable but should play, but the Fire will be without Miguel Navarro due to yellow card accumulation. Kacper Przybylko is out, which is a bummer considering it’s Polish Heritage Night, so maybe we’ll see Jhon Durán get the nod up top.
Here’s a fun one: Cincy goalkeeper Roman Celentano is a Naperville native and has started the last four games for FCC. Celentano went to Indiana University, and like Mueller, he came up through the Sockers academy. He signed a Generation Adidas contract allowing him to leave college early to go professional.
Chicago’s Victor Bezerra and Celentano were teammates at IU and got bounced from the third round of the 2022 NCAA tournament by the University of Washington. Who was on that team? The Fire’s future first-round draft pick, Kendall Burks.
Other News This Week: The Fire announced the signing of Justin Reynolds to a Homegrown contract, which will officially begin January 1, 2023, and will run through 2026, with a club option for 2027. Reynolds joins his brother, Andre Reynolds II, as a member of the Fire. He’s the 24th Homegrown signing in club history.
How to Watch
Chicago Fire vs. FC Cincinnati
MLS Match Day #11 | Saturday, May 14 | Soldier Field, Chicago
Kickoff: 7 p.m. CT
Streaming: CF97 Live (available for free on the Fire’s app and website for local area fans), ESPN+ (for out-of-market fans)
Talent: Tyler Terens (play-by-play), Tony Meola (color commentary)
Live Twitter Updates: @CHGO_Fire (make sure you’re following us!)
Fire Availability Report
QUESTIONABLE: Javier Casas Jr. (pelvis), Gastón Giménez (right hip), Jairo Torres (left hip)
OUT: Kacper Przybyłko (back), Spencer Richey (head)
NOT AVAILABLE: Miguel Navarro (yellow card accumulation)
FC Cincinnati Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: Brenner (Back), Yuya Kubo (Ankle)
OUT: Isaac Atanga (Leg), Allan Cruz (Leg), Calvin Harris (Leg), Alec Kann (Lower Body), Ronald Matarrita (Ankle Surgery)
Next Up for Chicago
Wednesday, May 18 | New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire | Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ | 6:30 p.m CT, WGN-TV, CF97 Live
Sunday, May 22 | New York City FC vs. Chicago Fire | Citi Field, Queens, NY | 4 p.m. CT, WGN-TV, CF97 Live
Saturday, May 28 | Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire | BMO Field, Toronto, ON, Canada | 6 p.m. CT, WGN-TV, CF97 Live
Saturday, June 18 | Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United | Soldier Field, Chicago | 7 p.m. CT, UniMas, TUDN
Cincinnati’s rolling in league play, but this feels like one where the Fire might take all three points. We’ll say it ends up 1-0 Fire off a Chris Mueller goal.
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