Match Preview: Will the Whitecaps catch Fire in Chicago?

Wednesday night in Chicago, the Vancouver Whitecaps will look for their second consecutive road win as they take on the Fire at Soldier Field. After an entertaining 3-2 win over the Timbers this past weekend, the Whitecaps will have to rely on the depth and fitness of their squad as they face a quick turnaround.

The good news for Vancouver is that Chicago faces a travel schedule similar to their own, as they were out on the road in Los Angeles this past weekend, where they dropped a 3-0 contest against the LA Galaxy. It was a tough slog for the Fire, who went down to 10 men after just 27 minutes following a Gastón Giménez second yellow. Overall, the scoreline of that match was quite flattering for the Galaxy. Up until the sending off, the Fire were swarming the Galaxy goal and created a number of high quality scoring chances which they failed to convert. Even after going down a man, it was only in the late stages where the wheels really came off and they allowed two additional goals.

The Fire are now 0-2 since the Leagues Cup break, having previously lost to Orlando City SC 3-1 on August 20th at home. Somewhat like the Galaxy match, the Fire fell victim to some bad luck and dubious officiating, though ultimately, they have not done enough since the break to be entirely convincing either. This is really emblematic of Chicago in general this season. They have had some nice moments, such as their three match win streak prior to the Leagues Cup break, but overall, they have not done enough to be a comfortable playoff team in the East.

In terms of players to watch, Xherdan Shaqiri is obviously the name most will be familiar with, though the Swiss winger has not had the kind of trajectory-altering impact over his MLS career that the Fire would have hoped for. Whitecaps supporters will also be familiar with Kei Kamara up front, who currently leads Chicago with 5 goals in MLS play, as well as goalkeeper Spencer Richey, who has started 4 times for Chicago this season between the sticks.

Beyond those three, 24-year-old Maren Haile-Selassie has been a nice addition on loan from FC Lugano in the Swiss League, with 4 goals and 3 assists so far this season. Last but certainly not least, 20-year-old Illinois native Brian Gutiérrez has been impressive in his second season as a regular MLS contributor, with 1 goal and 5 assists in 2023. As a result, he is drawing the interest of some big clubs in Europe.

Looking at the xG models, the Fire have a lot of work to do. According to American Soccer Analysis, Chicago has the highest expected goals against of all MLS teams this season. Correspondingly, the Vancouver Whitecaps are the best team in MLS in terms of expected goals for, while Chicago is 5th from bottom in that department. These metrics result in Chicago currently sitting 5 points above their expected mark, with 32 points as opposed to the projected 27. This is a bit grim considering that even with this luck, they are just clinging to the last playoff spot in the East. Looking back at the last two matches specifically, the Fire really struggle defensively in dealing with crosses, especially during the second phase after those balls are played in. Chicago has a habit of dropping their lines incredibly deep when under pressure, and this provides all kinds of space for opposing attackers to get dangerous shots off, as well as placing Fire defenders in a position where they are forced to concede fouls.

Turning to Vancouver, I think that Vanni Sartini will like his team’s chance to score goals in this match. The question is whether or not they can button things up defensively to the point where they can earn all three points. Looking at the squad, Pedro Vite and Sebastian Berhalter could play a major roles on Wednesday after seeing limited minutes on the weekend. Equally, Sergio Cordova was slated to start on Saturday but was withdrawn due to some muscle tightness, so we’ll see if he is fit enough to shoulder the load midweek. Update: Cordova is questionable as of training on Tuesday, so I don’t think he will start Wednesday night. Vite, meanwhile, will be hungry to make a claim for starting spot in the midfield after Ali Ahmed went 90+ minutes in Portland, while Berhalter should slot in for Cubas who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.

In terms of the newcomers, Richie Laryea might see a reduced workload after a heavy shift on the weekend, although Sam Adekugbe played just 60ish minutes against the Timbers, so perhaps he starts again in Chicago.

I think there is a big opportunity here for the Whitecaps to secure a dream start to their record setting roadtrip. If Vancouver can avoid moments of madness, I can see them cruising to a 2-0 win in Chicago, heading to Yankee Stadium this weekend brimming with confidence.

What are your thoughts on the matchup? Let me know in the comments.

(Image Credit: Chicago Fire & VWFC)

5 thoughts on “Match Preview: Will the Whitecaps catch Fire in Chicago?

  1. No mention of Takaoka ? Clearly dislocated a finger in the second half v Portland, there surely has been some mention of his status by someone in the past three days ?

    1. Usually those things are ok as long as they can pop it back in, I haven’t heard anything to the contrary!

      1. “Okay” is a relative term. If nothing has been reported otherwise, then he’s able to at least give it a go tonight. We’ll see how he reacts to shots hit with venom and then we’ll have our answer.

        Thanks much.

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