Preview: New York City FC at Chicago Fire

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

Patrick Vieira and Veljko Paunovic will make their coaching debuts when New York City FC takes on the Chicago Fire to start the 2016 season Sunday afternoon.

Vieira and Paunovic each come from Europe looking to lead their clubs to the playoffs after both teams failed to qualify in 2015. Both teams have been rebuilt from last season with the Fire parting ways with mainstays Mike Magee, Harrison Shipp and Joevin Jones during the offseason. NYCFC will debut a revamped backline that will be tested by the pace and skill of winger David Accam and forward Gilberto.

Match Information

Sunday, March 6 at Toyota Park. Kickoff: 2:00 pm.
TV/Streaming: YES/MLS Live
Radio: WFAN (English), WADO (Spanish)
Referee: Armando Villarreal

2015 Regular Season, GF/GA, Division and League Position
New York City: 37 points from 34 matches, 49GF/58GA, 8th in East, 17th in MLS
Chicago: 30 points from 34 matches, 43GF/58GA, 10th in East, 20th in MLS

Projected Lineups:

NYCFC:
Saunders; Iraola, White, Brillant, Matarrita; Diskerud, Pirlo, McNamara; Shelton, Villa, Taylor

Fire:
Johnson; Vincent, Meira, Kappelhof, Ramos; Alvarez, Goosens, Polster, Accam; Gilberto, Igboananike


 

NYCFC’s frontline vs Fire’s defense

Tony Taylor, David Villa and Khiry Shelton versus Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos

Both NYCFC’s front three and the Fire’s back four have never played together in a competitive match. New York City is looking for wingers Taylor and Shelton to expand the attack and give Villa more space to run into. Meira and Kappelhof come to MLS after being regulars at Belaneses and FC Groningen earlier this season. Vincent was seen as a possible draft pick for NYCFC before it zeroed in on Jack Harrison.

Advantage: NYCFC


Fire’s frontline vs. NYCFC defense

Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike versus Ronald Matarrita, Ethan White, Frédéric Brillant and Andoni Iraola

One of Frank Yallop’s last contributions as Fire coach was to finally come around on pairing Igboananike and Gilberto up front. That move helped Igboananike find his form late last season but the one-time DP struggled in his first season only scoring seven times. Gilberto will roam in between the lines while Igboananike will look to run in behind White and Brillant. Matarrita will be tested by Accam who was second in MLS in dribbles attempted.

Advantage: Fire


The Midfields

Andrea Pirlo, Thomas McNamara and Mix Diskerud versus Arturo Alvarez, John Goosens, Matt Polster and David Accam

Frank Lampard is not likely to be available to start for NYCFC allowing McNamara to build off of a strong preseason. McNamara will roam the left side next to Diskerud with Pirlo positioned underneath. Goosens came to the Fire as a trialist who happened to have the same mutual friends as Paunovic, now he’s the team’s playmaker. Alvarez returns to MLS after a stint in Europe to bring experience on the left side. Accam and Polster are questionable to start.

Advantage: Fire


The Coaches

Patrick Vieira versus Veljko Paunovic

Vieira and Paunovic are both optimistic about the long-term future for their clubs. But for now, both men will coach a senior team for the first time in their career. Vieira preaches high-pressure and control while Paunovic is favoring balance and adaptability. Neither team will have fully grasped their coach’s principles at this early stage.

Advantage: Push


The Intangibles

It’s two teams that are not familiar with each other or the opponent. It’s two coaches making their MLS debuts. Not enough in the tea leaves to read into and declare a definitive advantage.

Advantage: Push

Prediction: 2-2 draw.