If ever there was a time to face Sporting Kansas City, this might be it.
The Chicago Fire head to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday to take on a Sporting KC team that just traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando. The trade itself is making waves around Major League Soccer for the record-breaking amount of allocation money involved ($1.6 million if incentives are hit), but for the Fire it simply means an opportunity to get a crack at the hosts before they fully regroup without the prolific scorer.
On top of that, Gerso Fernandes, who leads the team with six goals, is suspended for the game for a dangerous tackle last weekend at Real Salt Lake. Other SKC stalwarts Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are returning to the team after starting in and winning Wednesday’s Gold Cup final with the national team. Key defender Ike Opara is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion in a U.S. Open Cup game on July 11.
That’s not to say Sporting won’t still be a tough out, especially at home. KC is undefeated at home (6-0-4) and hasn’t lost in two months. Sporting is on a 10-match unbeaten run, including three wins in the U.S. Open Cup, even with Besler, Zusi and Dwyer missing time while with the national team.
“They are a good team,” Fire winger David Accam said. “We know what they can do. They are really solid at the back also. They tend to win, especially in Kansas, they haven’t lost yet. They haven’t lost a game there and they are a really good team so for us we need to put New York behind us and try to concentrate and focus on the next game.”
The Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) are trying to rebound from a 2-1 loss at New York City FC, the Fire’s first MLS loss since April. The game will air live on CSN+ with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
KC (8-4-9, 33 points) has allowed a jaw-dropping 15 goals in 21 matches, which is the best total in the league. Central midfielder Ilie Sanchez has proven to be a revelation and helps protect the backline and defend the middle of the field, something the Fire has struggled with a few times this season including the loss in New York.
Even with a potentially shorthanded backline, Kansas City is still a solid defensive team with goalkeeper Tim Melia having a standout season.
“I think for me it’s a great opportunity for us, playing against one of the best teams also in the league, a tough team,” Paunovic said. “A great opportunity to recover the mentality we had and it’s not going to be easy. I think they have a very balanced team, good in attack, good in defense, one of the best in defense obviously in the league, but we have one of the best attacks. I think it’s a great test for this is how we are going to prepare our guys.
“For sure, if we can break this defense, we then can keep believing that we are one of the best attacks and teams in the league. That’s going to be the challenge.”
The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent, who suffered a quad injury in warmups before the game in New York. Michael Harrington filled in at left back. Patrick Doody, who recently returned from a loan spell with USL team Saint Lousi FC, is another option at left back.
Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City
Where: Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kan.
When: Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (11-4-5, 38 points), Sporting KC (8-4-9, 33 points)