New York City FC are preparing for a midweek meeting with Chicago Fire at Yankee Stadium.

For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Patrick McCraney, a Chicago Fire fan, and Editor of Fire blog Hot Time In Old Town.

Hi Pat, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering soccer?  

Two years now. I started at the beginning of the 2020 season. Before that, I covered politics and government for the bulk of my career. Kind of a weird switch, I know, but I’m enjoying it! 

What’s been your favorite moment covering soccer?  

Honestly, it was probably this past week. Last Wednesday, Luka Stojanovic scored a golazo on the last kick of the match to beat FC Cincinnati 4-3. Then on Saturday, the Fire finally drew a big crowd for the first time since moving back to Soldier Field a couple of years ago. Chicago beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 in front of 31,000 plus fans. We’ve been starved for good, fun moments with this club for a long time. Even with the team out of playoff contention, this last week felt good.

Chicago Fire have had quite a difficult season. What are your hopes for 2022? 

I’m really enjoying watching Gabriel Slonina in goal. He’s only 17, but the kid has shown some massive potential. I’m also hopeful that Federico Navarro will continue to play well. He’s a 21-year-old defensive midfielder from Argentina, and he covers a lot of ground and wins a lot of balls. Both of those guys give me hope for next season.

I don’t expect Robert Beric to return, and I’m not sure Gaston Gimenez will be back, either. That would give Chicago two open designated player slots to fill this off-season. Both of those guys have been fine, but neither has lived up to a DP contract. Hopefully, the Fire can find two game-changers to come in and make an immediate impact. 

Frank Klopas has actually done a great job as interim head coach this week, but I’m also hoping the Fire make a big signing there--someone who commands respect and knows MLS.

NYCFC have played Chicago twice before but haven't been able to win. What have you made of the previous meetings? 

That first match--the 0-0 draw in August--I felt like NYCFC were the better side, but the Fire played some pretty strong defense and escaped with a point. That was Slonina’s first start, and I think most Fire fans were happy it wasn’t a disaster for him.

The second match, when NYCFC visited Chicago (or rather Bridgeview, as the Chicago Bears forced the Fire out of Soldier Field and back to SeatGeek Stadium for that one) was the Fire’s best performance of the season. Oddly, it was Raphael Wicky’s last game in charge. Management had decided to fire him after that match no matter the result, so it was nice to see him go out on a good note. Wicky had a brutal record in his nearly two seasons here, but he’s a good man with good ideas, even if they didn’t work out. That was one of the few times where his vision for the team actually worked on the pitch.

Are there any ways you think Ronny Deila's side can get at the Fire? 

With the playoff pressure off and Klopas in charge, Chicago is playing decent soccer at the moment. They’ve only lost once in their last six games. That said, the Fire have only won twice on the road this season, once against the Red Bulls, and that match in Cincy last week, which took a valiant effort at the end to pull out. The Fire doesn’t score a lot, especially on the road, so if NYCFC can hit them with an early goal, it will be a long night. 

If you were to identify the Fire's dangerman, who would that be? 

For me, it’s 100-percent Luka Stojanovic. He’s tied with Beric as the team’s leading scorer, and yet he’s only played 1,333 minutes this season. For whatever reason, Stojanovic rarely starts. But if anyone can create a goal out of nothing, it’s Luka.

And finally, for anyone that may be in Chicago for a game, are there any attractions you'd suggest they check out? 
We have a bunch of fantastic local breweries in Chicago and in the suburbs, too. I’ll give a shout to Revolution Brewing, which makes some fantastic beer. They just partnered on a beer with the Fire that I’m excited to try. Revolution has both a brewpub and a brewery/taproom, so choose the one that suits your needs. Also, since this is a New York audience, a brief note on our pizza: Despite what you may have seen on travel shows, we do not generally consume a lot of deep-dish pizza in this city. It’s for tourists. When we order pizza, it’s generally thin crust, “tavern style”, cut in squares. Find some hole-in-the-wall pizza place, and order that. Make sure you grab one of the little triangle corner pieces for yourself. You’ll thank me later.