New York City FC are in the Windy City on Wednesday night for a meeting with the Chicago Fire.
For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Brian Sandalow, a writer that covers the Fire for the Chicago Sun Times, among others.
Hi Brian, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering the team?
This is my fifth season over two stints.
What's been your favorite moment covering the team?
The day Joe Mansueto bought out Andrew Hauptman (Sept. 13, 2019). For the first time in years there was a real sense of optimism around the club, which a new, rich, engaged owner can bring. Alas, two years in, the Fire still look like the Fire (except with a worse logo and bland uniforms) and play in a cavernous football stadium as a secondary tenant.
It's been a testing 2021 season for the club, what do you think needs to change for the team to get above the playoff line next season?
How much time do we have? Hahahahaha. The easiest area to point to is the three designated players. None deserve to be back and two (Robert Beric and Gaston Gimenez) have contract options that should be declined. But if one of those two come back, it would be another massive mistake by sporting director Georg Heitz. Ignacio Aliseda is signed through 2023 but can’t stay healthy and hasn’t done a ton on the field. Getting rid of him might be tough but it’s worth exploring.
The job security of Heitz and coach Raphael Wicky (2022 club option) should also be in question, but it’s hard to see Mansueto dumping Heitz after buying a Swiss partner club earlier this year. Wicky hasn’t gotten enough out of what he’s been given, but a hybrid of Sir Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough and Arsene Wenger might struggle with this roster.
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
In all seriousness, the Fire have been somewhat harder to break down since going with three at the back. But they’ve struggled to score in that formation. Not much should really worry Ronny Delia tactically. The Fire really don’t have an identity.
Are there any areas where you think Chicago Fire can improve tactically?
It isn’t really a tactical thing, but Wicky seemed very hesitant to start Luka Stojanovic earlier this season despite him being their most dangerous attacker. But now he has an ankle issue and didn’t play Sunday. So #shrugemoji.
If you were to identify Chicago's danger-man, who would that be?
The Soldier Field grass after a football game. Oh wait, Wednesday is at Bridgeview. Um, “danger” is doing a lot of work but I’d say Stojanovic if healthy. If not, Alvaro Medran, but his five assists came in a three-game stretch, the last being July 7. There really isn’t much to trouble NYCFC.
And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to Chicago in the future, are there any particular attractions you’d suggest checking out?
There’s really nothing better than spending time at the lake. Maybe grab a couple of local beers (can’t beat Revolution or Pipeworks) and a sandwich and just chill on the lakefront. And if you have a hankering for pizza, find tavern-style like Chicagoans actually eat. Deep-dish is for tourists, or Chicagoans hosting tourists who are forcing them to eat deep-dish.