The Chicago Fire opened the 2016 season with a disappointing home loss to a 2015 MLS expansion team. Now the Fire hit the road to take on the other 2015 MLS expansion side.
After Sunday’s 4-3 loss to New York City FC, the Fire will pay Orlando City a visit at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Lions drew Real Salt Lake 2-2 in the opener, scoring twice in second half stoppage time in a game that included a red card for each team.
Orlando had over 60,000 in attendance in the Citrus Bowl and should have another big crowd again. The big crowd isn’t the only factor of playing at the Citrus Bowl.
“We are going to prepare for the turf, we are going to prepare for the weather,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We expect it to be hot there and we will do our best to prepare for those conditions.”
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Friday will be Paunovic’s first road match in charge of the Fire. The Fire went through all of 2015 without a single win on the road, although Paunovic didn’t address last year’s road failures directly when asked earlier this week.
“We see all our games as an opportunity for us to win, to perform well and to be the best we can be,” Paunovic said. “For the next game, we will have our game plan. We always want to win, don’t forget that. We will always say that.
“This time hopefully we will perform defensively better and also offensively we score the opportunities we create in order to win.”
From a personnel standpoint, Friday could mark the debut of John Goossens. The Dutch midfielder received his visa this week and returned to training on Wednesday. He played a key role in the preseason and if he is deemed fit enough to play after the long flight to his home country, Goossens could be a difference maker in the Fire midfield.
Meanwhile, Gilberto is listed as out in the injury report. He suffered an injury early on against NYCFC and was subbed out at halftime. In his absence, Paunovic may elect a different setup than the 4-2-3-1 he started out with on Sunday.
As for Orlando, the Lions’ lineup has been in flux to start the season. For starters, Brazilian star Kaka is expected to be out for the second straight week. He suffered a thigh strain in training leading up to the opener and will also miss Friday’s match. In addition, midfielder Darwin Ceren will be out serving his red card suspension after being sent off against RSL. Returning for Orlando will be midfielder Cristian Higuita, who sat out the opener due to a red card in the 2015 season finale.
Friday’s match could also serve as the debut for Antonio Nocerino, who joined the team too late to play on Sunday. Nocerino, 30, last played for AC Milan and is a former Italian international.
All the movement in the lineup has made Orlando a bit unpredictable early on. Paunovic noted that the Lions used a 4-3-3 against RSL, something they hadn’t shown in the preseason.
“Playing at home, we expect them to be a more direct team than New York, but still playing the same formation as they played in the first game,” Paunovic said. “We expect to have to contrast them in the same way we tried to do against New York. We have to improve our defense against them. They have very fast guys, very strong guys, like (Cyle) Larin. Then you have (Kevin) Molino and (Brek) Shea, guys who we can say now they have experience in the league that can be very, very dangerous.”