All-star laden and league storming, the 2017 Chicago Fire return to action Saturday at Yankee Stadium. American international Dax McCarty and newly married Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof were announced to the 2017 MLS all-star roster this week. The Fire now have a total of four Fire players selected for the exhibition match, as Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger had already been voted to the fan XI. Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic selected two Fire players in the 11 he selected as Coach of the 2017 MLS All-Star team. Chicago will visit NYCFC in a battle between teams in the top three of the eastern conference. The match will also feature the top two scorers in the league with the Fire’s Nikolic and Spanish legend David Villa leading the attack.
Chicago Fire to Battle for MLS Top Spot in New York
The Chicago Fire enter the second half of their season in an unfamiliar position. The Men In Red will now be battling to hold onto the summit of the MLS table on a weekly basis. Chicago and Toronto look to be the class of the league thus far. A win against third place NYCFC will help add separation from the chasing pack. A home run in New York will be needed to keep pace with Toronto, who face lowly Colorado on Saturday night. The Fire have not been quite as dominant on the road as at home but remain unbeaten in the league since late April. The April 29th loss came during their visit to New York, when they fell 2-1 to the Red Bulls. A Fire win at NYCFC may also serve as a small respite for players like Luis Solignac, who suffered through a 4-1 loss at Yankee Stadium in 2016.
Well Rested Fire
Unlike NYCFC who played at midweek against Toronto FC, the Fire will come into Saturday’s game after nearly two weeks off. Amongst the key points of the match will be whether the extra rest makes the Fire rusty compared to New York who played Wednesday. The Fire’s new international players will have to adjust quickly to the unique dimensions of Yankee Stadium. Nikolic likes to play on the defenders back shoulder and run into space. How his game performs on the smaller pitch will be of great interest.
The Hungarian international spoke highly of NYCFC forward David Villa during the week. The Spanish World Cup winner is the closest competitor to Nikolic in the Golden Boot race.
“[David Villa is] for sure one of the best in the league,” Nikolic emphasized. “He pushes me more, because every week he scores a goal and makes good games for his team. It’s motivation for me and other strikers to be better and better.”
Villa trails Nikolic by four goals having found the net 13 times thus far in 2017. Saturday afternoon’s duel in the Bronx between two of MLS’ top teams is also a battle between two of the league’s top goal-scorers. Intrigue certainly abounds in the lead-up to what should be a hugely entertaining affair.