It’s crunch time in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer as both Chicago Fire and New York City FC are fighting for a place in the all-important postseason, but only one team can achieve it (6pm ET Saturday). Both teams need a win and other results to go their way, so we should be in for a great game at Yankee Stadium. Read on for our MLS game preview, with predictions and betting picks.
It’s now or never
If either of these teams really want to be involved in the 2023 Major League Soccer playoffs, then it really is now or never. For the hosts, NYCFC, the situation is a little desperate. They need to win this game and hope that Montreal, Charlotte and rivals Red Bulls all lose. This means that their presence in the postseason seems unlikely, but it is not impossible. Nothing would be worse for Nick Cushing and his men than failing to win this game and realising that three points would have carried them through, so they’ll surely be going all out for success here.
Fortunately for the visitors, Chicago Fire, they have the upper hand. They are currently two points ahead of Saturday’s hosts and know that a win is likely to see them through, though even if they do win, they will need to hope that one of the Red Bulls and Montreal CF fail to earn three points. It is also fortunate that the Fire come off the back of having recently won on the road. That was against NYCFC’s bitter rivals the New York Red Bulls, so they’ll believe that they can get the win here too.
More of the same from NYCFC at home
The hosts need more of the same at home after winning each of their last two fixtures at Yankee Stadium. After drawing against both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the New York Red Bulls, Cushing’s men improved to beat Orlando City in front of a home crowd, before going on to beat Toronto FC last time out. They sharpened their offensive tools in those two games, scoring five goals, while they also stood firm at the back. They will need plenty of that in this fixture.
It is defensive solidity that could see them through here, as the hosts have avoided conceding for the most part at home in recent times. NYCFC have conceded only one goal and kept four clean sheets in their last five Major League Soccer fixtures at home. Such a record should give them the confidence on Saturday.
Fire cold on the road
Chicago Fire did beat the Red Bulls on the road last time out, but they didn’t exactly create the best impression on their way to that win, conceding lots of shots, registering just five of their own. That was something of a smash and grab, but their overall road record doesn’t exactly point towards them repeating the feat here.
Before notching that single goal on the road at Red Bull Arena, the Fire had failed to score in four straight traveling MLS games. It hardly points to them thriving offensively at Yankee Stadium, especially since the hosts generally keep things tight.
The lack of a serious goal-getter has been an issue for the Fire all season and that problem has only been amplified on the road. Maren Haile-Selassie, who is a defender, is their top-scorer with six goals, and that really does say it all.
Hosts NY City FC on top in this fixture
In recent times, it is the hosts who’ve dominated this fixture. When the teams met earlier this season, they tied 1-1 in Chicago, but New York City had won three renewals of this fixture on the spin prior to that, winning 1-0 when the pair last met at this venue.
Interestingly, this has tended to be a low-scoring fixture in recent years, with each of the last six renewals containing no more than two goals. Both teams have scored in just one of those six.
NYCFC can grind it out
In the betting, ‘New York City FC to Win & Under 3.5 Goals’ appeals. The hosts have the quality to get the job done at home, but they should not be expected to go all out for a big win. Cushing’s men will know that their best chance lies in keeping things tight, so expect a patient approach from the home side. They know how to grind out a low-scoring win at home. They also know that the visitors struggle to make offensive headway on the road, so they ought to believe that the win will come if they can just keep things nice and tight.
The fact that Chicago not only fail to fire on a regular basis from an offensive point of view on the road, bodes well for the home win, as does the fact that the Chicago Fire rank as the third-worst team in all of Major League Soccer for shots per 90 minutes. They are also the third worst team in MLS for shots on target per 90. They have lost three of their last five on the road, while less than four goals were scored in four of those five away games. Less than four goals have been scored in each of NYCFC’s last nine Major League Soccer matches at Yankee Stadium.
The hosts have won each of their last two at home whilst keeping a clean sheet in the process. NYCFC’s overall home record is much better than Chicago Fire’s record on the road. So a relatively low-scoring home win starts to look like the best option, even if such a result may turn out not to be enough in terms of the playoffs. So for the betting predictions and picks for this MLS matchup preview, the suggestion is this: