BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — After getting thumped in San Jose last week, the Chicago Fire returned home and settled for a 1-1 draw at home against New York City FC.
Coach Veljko Paunović tinkered with the lineup, switching goalkeepers and bringing leading scorer and former MLS Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic off the bench.
The Fire are getting closer to full strength and working to earn more points ahead of the Gold Cup break.
Gaitán nearing return from injury
Nicolás Gaitán missed his second straight match on Saturday due to a thigh injury. The Argentine playmaker could be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday in D.C.
“We evaluate from week-to-week and he is very close to return,” Paunović said. “So we will see if he will be ready for the next game, at least give him some minutes. We’ll see.”
Gaitán has two goals and two assists in nine appearances (seven starts) since joining the Fire. He appeared to be settling into the team and his role within it with two goals and two assists in his last two matches before the injury.
The Fire’s attack has sputtered as times this season, even with Gaitán in the lineup, but his return would be significant after a pair of lackluster showings without him.
Raheem Edwards made his first start of the season, playing all 90 minutes at left back.
Edwards had been out since suffering a sprained LCL in early April. This was his second appearance of the season.
He nearly scored his season goal of the season, but was denied by Sean Johnson in the second half on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Canadian gives the Fire another option on the back line. He also gives plenty of speed from the flank. If Edwards can do enough defensively, he could help solidify left back, which has not been a solid position for the Fire this season.
Still hovering just below red line
Through 13 matches, the Fire don’t look like an especially good or bad team. Sometimes the Fire have looked great (comfortably beating Colorado, New England and Minnesota at home, picking up a draw at league-leading Los Angeles FC). Sometimes the Fire have looked poor (giving up four goals at home to Seattle, getting blown out in San Jose).
Unless something drastic changes, this season is likely to be full of peaks and valleys for the Fire. The team has too much quality to fall way below the playoff line, but too many weaknesses to comfortably make the postseason.
After Saturday’s games, the Fire are tied with Toronto on points for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. TFC has two games in hand to earn some separation.
Up next, the Fire have road games at conference-leading D.C. and defending champion Atlanta. It won’t be easy to get points in those matches, the last ones before the Gold Cup break.
“We’re hovering around the red line,” CJ Sapong said. “We want to pitch ourselves over it. Obviously there’s a lot of soccer to be played. However, it’s important that we find our identity. We want to have continuity with results and confidence on the field. It’s going to be two good tests.”