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The Away End | Chicago Fire with Joe Chatz

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New York City Football Club take on the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Joe Chatz, a writer covering the Fire for On Tap Sports Net.

Hi Joe, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering the Chicago Fire?

2024 is my second full season on the Chicago Fire beat after covering the club part-time in 2022.

What has been your highlight in that time?

I’m not sure I’m able to boil down my time covering the club into one highlight considering the access that the team, players and coaching staff have allowed me to have since joining the beat in 2023.

One type of moment that always gets me is when a MLS Next Pro call-up gets their chance to come on the pitch for the first time in MLS. Those moments, having watched these players grind at the lower levels, remind me of the joy that this sport can bring to people.

What were your thoughts on the 2023 season?

I’m not sure there was anyone who was content with the outcome of the 2023 Chicago Fire season. As a journalist, it felt like each match had the potential to go haywire and the Fire missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, making matches tough to watch as the club’s issues became readily apparent throughout the campaign.

What are the expectations for the team during the 2024 season?

The Fire need to make the playoffs in 2024. They haven’t since 2017 and their fanbase has been running out of patience since before COVID-19 shut the world down.

There is no doubt that Chicago’s roster will look different in the coming months as the transfer window opens but the club’s inability to consistently find top-level MLS players has plagued them in recent years. They need at least another attacking option and a defensive midfielder should they sell Federico Navarro or Gastón Giménez, as has been speculated for months.

The Fire have not played consistent, good soccer all year and yet still only find themselves three points removed from the playoff positions. One good month is all they need to potentially earn a postseason berth.

What do you think will be the deciding factor in Saturday's game?

I think we can all agree that it’s highly unlikely a match between New York City FC and the Chicago Fire will end in a goalless draw. For the Fire, they need to simply avoid the defensive lapses that have doomed them in recent losses.

Last weekend in San Jose, the Fire lost to the lowly Earthquakes because of a mental lapse on the right side of the defense that allowed Hernán López far too much space and that was enough for the hosts to get a 1-0 win. If the Fire can get out of their own way defensively, they’ll put themselves in a solid position to succeed against New York City.

The major factor for the Fire on the offensive end comes down to hitting the target. Chicago only had a single on-target effort against the Earthquakes and, if you remember Decision Day 2023 at Citi Field, the Fire’s Achilles heel has been getting high volumes of shots on goal. The offseason addition of Hugo Cuypers for a club-record fee has helped quell some of those issues for the Fire but they’ll be hard-pressed to get a result at home against a conference opponent.

And for any fans that might be in Chicago for the game are there any spots you'd suggest they check out?

So the “fun” part about Soldier Field’s location is it’s relatively isolated on Chicago’s Museum Campus along the lakefront, so the immediate dining/relaxing locations will be in the South Loop/Grant Park area along Michigan Avenue and further west from there.

If you’re trying to nerd out before the match in a climate-controlled environment, The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium are all steps away from Soldier Field.

Otherwise, the Fire put on a great pre-match activation in the south end of Soldier Field that opens at 5:30. There are plenty of seating options and it’s a relatively climate-controlled environment if you’d like to get to the stadium early and relax.

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