Friday night’s nationally televised MLS game on UniMas features Orlando City hosting the Chicago Fire and the Florida Citrus Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm eastern time. The Lions drew on Sunday with Real Salt Lake 2-2 in both clubs MLS opener for 2016.
The Fire are simply put a woeful team – about as bad as a team can get within the closed system of MLS that does not have promotion or relegation and incentives parity. Last season, Chicago was arguably the worst team in MLS, perhaps in some ways inferior to second-division teams playing right here in the state of Florida like the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. But without promotion and relegation, Fort Lauderdale wasn’t getting promoted and Chicago relegated. But in most countries top divisions, teams as bad as Chicago one season would not be in the league the following year.
This season, it appears the Fire not improved much. An opening day loss to New York City FC at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois yielded a comical display of defending. The Fire lost 4-3, but were consistently on the back foot being opened up easily both from wide areas and right down the center of the pitch.
Last season, the Fire signed Shaun Maloney as a Designated Player from Wigan Athletic in England. Months later he left MLS to return to England this time to play for Hull City. The ensuing confusion about the squad led to a disastrous finish and the firing of Head Coach Frank Yallop who once played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. This season the Fire are led by Veljko Paunovic who won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with Serbia this past summer. But Paunovic has no Head Coaching experience in MLS or any other well-respected top division league.
The intent for 2016 might have been made clear when the Fire opted to trade homegrown star Harry Shipp to Montreal. Shipp who came through the club’s academy and played for the Fire’s developmental squad while a student at Notre Dame. Shipp is the single best player developed by the Fire since the club began its academy system, yet when he developed some value he was sent on his way to a team with more clear ambition.
Chicago’s lack of experience and quality make this a match Orlando City must win. It’s difficult to view a game this early in the season as must win but Chicago is so poor that dropping points to them at home would be a certain sign of trouble after a shaky offseason.