“O, Canada!”

The Chicago Fire head north to Canada this Saturday to take on Toronto FC. Surprisingly, Toronto has been playing exceptionally well as we start up the second half of the MLS season.

After a few rough seasons in the past couple of years, Federico Bernardeschi and co. have really gotten into a rhythm as they sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Jonathan Osorio, the midfielder for Toronto, has also been in tremendous form, showing why he is one of the best MLS vets in the league.

With the Fire’s recent performances, one would think a trip north of the border would result in yet another winless outcome. However, Fire fans could be in for a wonderful surprise as all signs point to a promising result.

How? Well, let me share some good news.

PHOTO: The Canadian Press

I mentioned in a previous write-up that MLS teams, which have a great chance of competing for a deep run in MLS playoffs, seem to get hot during the summer months. It has happened time and time again over the past few seasons. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s midway through June, and the Fire desperately needs to find its form. Despite not stringing together positive results, they only sit four points back from a playoff spot.

That could be misleading, and it feels like that’s a topic of conversation every week; however, let me remind you all that it’s almost harder for a team not to make the playoffs given the new format, allowing more than half of the conference to compete for a playoff spot.

So yes, I am, once again, sitting here as a delusional Fire supporter reminding you that there, indeed, STILL is a chance for post-season footy in Chicago. It’s imperative, though, for Chicago to take all three points from Toronto this weekend, and it’s definitely doable because of a few key reasons I’m about to dive into.

Why do I feel so good about the Fire taking on a hot Toronto FC on the road this weekend?

Most teams were on a bye week last week, so it’s been a little while since we have had action across the league. Fans may have forgotten what went on during that week off.

Let me remind you that Italian sensation and Toronto’s best player this season, Federico Bernardeschi, was sent off late in his last match as he received his second yellow in the 87th minute of play.

That is incredible news for the Fire, who have struggled heavily lately to keep opposing teams out of the net.

Here’s why…

In 15 matches this season, Bernardeschi has been an absolute terror with seven goals and four assists. He is most definitely on pace to record the best individual season in Toronto history since ex-Toronto legend Sebastian Giovinco, one of the greatest players to ever play in MLS. Aside from the stats Federico contributes, his presence on the field makes everyone around him so much better. Much like Riqui Puig, who the Fire faced a couple of weeks ago, Bernardeschi is a real baller and can take over a game in a matter of moments. With his form as of late, you could’ve almost guaranteed that he would have produced damage against the Fire this weekend. Toronto FC will be missing a true leader on Saturday against the Fire. You can expect Toronto’s tempo to look completely different than it has all season. Fire fans around, join me in rejoicing that we do not have to come up with a game plan aimed at containing one of the best midfielders in the league. A huge plus that the Men in Red need to take advantage of in the midfield battle this weekend.

As crazy as this may sound to any other fan of a team around the league, another positive for CF97 this weekend is the absence of a particular Designated Player on the Fire, Xherdan Shaqiri. Let’s all be honest and face the reality: Shaqiri just isn’t working out. In his 12 appearances this year, he has only produced 2 goals and an assist. In a role where production is the only demand, Shaqiri continues to be a letdown. Aside from his poor play, it’s a shame just how much we are throwing away on him, financially speaking. Shaqiri has been away on international duty with Switzerland for the past couple of weeks and will continue to be as the Euros are set to begin today.

The comparison between both teams ‘ DPs this season is astonishing. Toronto FC will surely be a different team without theirs in Bernardeschi, and the Fire will be as well, but in a positive way.

Anyone who has watched the Fire this year knows that the Fire seems to play better and more together when Shaqiri isn’t on the field. Why? Is it his work rate? Is it the team chemistry?

Is it the fluidity in the midfield that seems to be more upbeat with younger, hungrier guys like Guti, Navarro, and Herbers? I don’t know what it is exactly, but what I do know is that I love the Fire’s chances of stealing 3 points from Toronto tomorrow with Bernardeschi and Shaqiri both out.

Here are a few more positives to mention in favor of the Men in Red:

  • Chicago Fire Forward and DP signing Hugo Cuypers seems to finally be finding his form, scoring in two consecutive matches for just the second time this season. Coincidence that both came in matches that Shaqiri did not play in? Hmm, you tell me…
  • Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto FC’s designated player and one of the highest earners in the league, just returned to the team earlier last week. In April, he suffered a hamstring strain, which sidelined him for 6 weeks. He made a return to training in May and then flew back to Italy for the birth of his child just two weeks ago. According to John Molinaro of TFC Republic, he is back and available for Saturday’s match. Why is this a good thing? I presume he will be forced back into the line up in some capacity in hopes that he can produce for Toronto. With how hectic his last month has been and the fact that he is probably out of form because of his absences, I don’t expect him to hurt the Fire as much as he normally would have. Aside from this reason, let’s not forget his fellow countryman who plays behind him, Bernardeschi, is out!
  • Rising star Brian Gutierrez is coming off yet again with another great performance and individual goal that helped the Fire beat a very in-form LA Galaxy. Look for him to take the reigns in the midfield and control the Fire’s tempo in the absence of Xherdan Shaqiri. With Toronto being the home team and looking to take the game to the Fire, I expect pockets of space in the midfield to open up for Guti to drive on counters, much like on his goal last match.

As poor as the Fire has been this year, I am declaring a great team performance and a road win tomorrow night in Toronto.
Might just even have some fun and sprinkle them on a sportsbook, roughly at around +250 odds.


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