Teams: Chicago Fire v Colorado Rapids
Kick-off: 06:00 AM, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois
Where to Watch: Catch live action on DSport, this Thursday
Last Game Played: Jun 19, 2016; COL 2 – 1 CHI
Season Goal leaders: Chicago Fire – Nemanja Nikolic (8 goals), Colorado Rapids- Dominique (3 goals)
This Thursday, Chicago Fire will take on the Colorado Rapids at home ground Toyota Park, Illinois for their first mid-week contest of the 2017. The match kicks off at 06:00am and will be televised live on DSport.
Head coach Veljko Paunovic’s men will be flying particularly high after a weekend that saw them throttle the reigning MLS Champion Seattle Sounders to the tune of 4-1 on Saturday night. They’ll look to ride that momentum against a Colorado side coming off of a big win of their own, having bested San Jose 3-0 last Saturday.
The good news for Chicago is that they will start that run of games at home against the West’s last-placed team, the Colorado Rapids. Still, Paunovic and his men will have to be wary of the Rapids and star attacker Shkelzen Gashi, who registered two long-awaited goals on Saturday to open his 2017 account.
Paunovic wouldn’t tip his hand as to what his rotations might entail, but one spot to look at may be central midfield, where key offseason acquisition Juninho is already nursing an ankle sprain that kept him out of the 18 against the Sounders. German star Bastian Schweinsteiger will also be another one to watch as Paunovic rotates his squad – not only does Juninho’s injury already create an extra wrinkle in his selection strategy, the upcoming stretch will be Schweinsteiger’s first real taste of the rapid-fire, long-distance travel that every MLS team endures during the season.
Paunovic could employ one of those two veterans alongside Dax McCarty (who has played every minute of the season so far), with Michael de Leeuw slotting in at the No. 10 role, as he did on Saturday. Still, we will see some of the Fire’s young guns enter the mix at some point – third-year player Matt Polster can feature at both defensive midfield and right back, while rookie draft pick Brandt Bronico and academy product Djordje Mihailovic have also seen limited minutes in central and attacking midfield this season.
It has not been an ideal start to 2017 for the Rapids. Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni may have hit upon something with his shakeup of his formation last week, opting for a 4-4-2 instead of a 4-2-3-1 and receiving his team’s highest scoring output all season (and their second clean sheet) in return. The question now is, does he stick with it?
Considering the Rapids generated their three goals against San Jose from a season-high total of four shots on target, the outside observer would be tempted to say yes. Gashi, who initially lined up on the right wing, was the prime beneficiary of the switch, his two shots on target (both goals) matching his season high as he feasted on the space cleared in front of him by Colorado’s physical forward duo of Alan Gordon (two assists) and Dominique Badji (one goal, one assist).
- Suspensions: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – M John Goossens (right ankle surgery); QUESTIONABLE – M Juninho (right ankle sprain)
- Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Matt Lampson – Drew Conner, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Brandon Vincent – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty – Luis Solignac, Michael de Leeuw, David Accam – Nemanja Nikolic
Notes: The Fire are unbeaten in their last eight games at home (5-0-3), scoring multiple goals in seven of those eight games and outscoring their opposition 18-8 in that span.
- Suspensions: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – D Axel Sjoberg (hamstring injury), M Bismark Adjei-Boateng (back injury); QUESTIONABLE – F Caleb Calvert (concussion)
- Projected Starting XI (4-4-2): Tim Howard – Mekeil Williams, Bobby Burling, Jared Watts, Eric Miller – Shkelzen Gahsi, Micheal Azira, Dillon Powers, Mohammed Saeid – Alan Gordon, Dominique Badji
Notes: Colorado have lost their last five away regular season matches, scoring just one goal in that span. Over their last 13 road games, the Rapids have conceded 1.9 goals per match and recorded just one shutout.
While this series runs pretty even overall, the facts leave little doubt – the Rapids have found little love when traveling to Chicago.
- Overall: Chicago 18 wins (63 goals) … Colorado 14 wins (52 goals) … Ties 9
- At Chicago: Chicago 15 wins (42 goals) … Colorado 4 wins (20 goals) … Ties 2