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Loons look to douse the Fire in home opener

Chicago will be hoping to avenge the 2-1 loss they suffered at Toyota Park last season.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, MNUFC will welcome the Chicago Fire to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the Loons home opener. Last year’s Snow-opener did not yield a positive result, but the Loons were able to pick up a scalp of the playoff-bound Fire late in the season.

The Fire have only played one game this season, a roller-coaster 4-3 loss to Sporting KC last weekend. That game saw them come from 2-0 down in the first half to take a 3-2 lead in the span of twelve minutes, only to capitulate in the closing minutes and give up two goals.

New Look for Chicago:

For Chicago, the biggest difference between this year and last year is there is no more David Accam. The dealt their pacey attacker to Philadelphia for a boatload of Allocation Money which they turned around and spent on a handful of players to full out their roster. This includes new centerback in Christian Dean and a new midfielder in Tony Tchani, both of which who started last week. Another absence from last year is goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who has started the first two games for the Loons.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lampson started last year on the bench for Chicago behind Jorge Bava and ended the year on the bench behind current keeper Richard Sanchez, who was acquired late in the season. Despite starting over twenty games last year, Lampson was deemed surplus to requirements and feel into the Loons’ lap.

Can the Loons replace Molino’s impact?

Through two games, the Loons have scored a total of four goals, with Molino contributing directly to three of them(2 G, 1 A). While not a creative midfielder by trade, he had a knack for being in the right position and being dangerous when afforded time on the ball. Both of these qualities will be hard to replace for Minnesota this weekend. They could revert back into playing a three man midfield of Schuller, Ibson, and Warner that we saw in preseason, but the best we could hope for with that lineup would be a 0-0 draw. This lineup defended with numbers and lacked motivation to attack. Not the kind of precedent you want to set in front of your home fans. Whichever two players anchor the midfield, there needs to be another player to fill the empty bucket in between the midfield and forwards. This could either be a second striker dropping in underneath, false 9 style, or a more advanced midfielder pushing forward and driving the attack from behind.

If it ends up being a second striker sitting in deep, I would assume Mason Toye would get the nod to start under Ramirez. Toye looked shaky in front of goal last week, but is strong enough and has a good touch to help hold up play and link up with attackers underneath him, as demonstrated with Miguel Ibarra to set up Ethan Finlay’s game winner.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If Heath chooses to field another midfielder, I would give the nod to Ibarra. He has experience playing centrally and is a hometown favorite. Recently he has had a lot of opportunities off the bench, but he could excel in front of a home crowd given a full game to work with his buddy Christian Ramirez.

Matchup to Watch:

Regardless of who starts in the middle for the Loons, they won’t have the impact of Molino. The Loons have only had a week to work it out, and despite my faith in the team, he is not an easy player to replace. That could end up shifting the focus of the attack to the periphery, where Ethan Finlay and Sam Nicholson(if fit) are waiting in the wings. Chicago might have the best young fullback pairing in MLS in Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent. Both are likely future US Internationals and will have their hands full tracking the Loons’ wingers all game long. If Finlay and Nicholson are shut down but their opposite numbers, this could be a long day for the Loons.

MLS: Sporting KC at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Do you think the Loons can overcome the loss of Molino to pick up their second win in a row? Who would you like to see step into the starting lineup in his place? Let me know in the comments below.

Tune in: Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 1 PM (CT) on Fox Sports North