Once canceled game and one group shift later, the Chicago Fire will finally get underway in the MLS Is Back tournament Tuesday night when they face the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders in Orlando.
The Fire were originally in Group A, but the withdrawal of Nashville SC after it had nine players test positive for the COVID-19 virus forced the league to revamp its groups. With Nashville being the second team to withdraw – FC Dallas did as well – it became logistically easier for the league to put the 24 remaining teams in six groups of four.
As a result, Chicago (0-1-1) will now face the Sounders, Vancouver and San Jose in group play.
«In general, you have to be flexible and prepare game by game, and that’s what we do, and that’s also the way we spoke to the team,» Fire coach Raphael Wicky told the club’s official website. «We said, ‘Let’s focus now on Seattle, and then go to the next game.’ That’s how we do it.»
Unlike most matchups in Orlando, the Fire do have some familiarity with the Sounders, having opened the season with a 2-1 defeat in the Pacific Northwest on March 1. Robert Boric gave Chicago a lead in the first minute of the second half, but Jordan Morris struck for a second-half brace, denying the Fire even a split of the points with a stoppage-time winner.
«We know Seattle,» captain Francisco Calvo said. «We played them before. I think we did a really good game against them. Unlucky we lost almost in the last minute, but know how to play them, and we are not afraid of anybody in this tournament or in this league.»
The Sounders (1-0-2) opened group play with a scoreless draw Saturday night against San Jose, with some of the rust of not playing for four months readily apparent. Brian Schmetzer’s team had six shots on target, with Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz having the best opportunities on either side of halftime.
«The first few games of a normal MLS season you have some of that same type of play, you know, guys are not quite as sharp,» Schmetzer told the Seattle Times, also noting he was not overly concerned about the team’s conditioning in the humid conditions. «I saw the replay on Raul’s chance, I saw Cristian’s chance. If they’re in midseason form maybe they make those goals, maybe they finish those plays.»
While there was a lack of sharpness on the offensive end, the time off apparently did good for the center back tandem of Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Xavier Arreaga. San Jose did finish with eight shots on frame, but only one of them came from inside the 18, and keeper Stefan Frei collected his first clean sheet of the season.
The Sounders have dominated this all-time matchup with 11 wins and four draws in 17 meetings. The neutral site could help Chicago considering it has never won in Seattle, but the Fire are also just 2-4-2 at home in the matchup.