Ronny Deila has had sleepless nights as he weighs up a key selection decision ahead of New York City FC’s meeting with Chicago Fire FC on Sunday.
City are flying high in the Eastern Conference thanks to five wins and a draw in their past six matches, most recently seeing off D.C. United 2-0 in midweek.
Valentin Castellanos scored from the penalty spot in that game to make it seven MLS goals for the campaign as he moved joint-top of the scoring charts.
However, Castellanos is suspended for the visit of Chicago, likely meaning one of Heber or Talles Magno will be drafted in against Chicago – a call that is weighing heavily on Deila’s mind.
“I sleep less because I want everybody to play,” he said. “I feel very bad to put people out of the team or not be able to play both of them at the same time.
“This decision makes for less sleep and a lot of thinking. It has to be the right decision when I think about my values and how I see things.
“It has to be fair and it’s also about what’s important in this game. How do I see the match and who will suit that best.”
While New York are enjoying a great spell of form, it could not be much different for Chicago at the bottom of the East.
Ezra Hendrickson’s side are winless in eight matches, though they did snap a four-game losing run with a 3-3 draw at New York Red Bulls last time out.
Even then, however, the Fire twice squandered the lead, with Patryk Klimala snatching a 91st-minute leveler for the home side.
“We are getting there,” Hendrickson said on the back of the thrilling draw. “It’s going to take some time but we are working, we are building and I like the progress we are making.
“I was very proud of them, except for that finish in the game. That improvement, I’m liking that, what I’m seeing from the guys, from everyone.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
New York City – Heber
Regardless of who gets the nod up top, they will have a huge void to fill in the absence of Castellanos. Heber has been used mainly as a substitute this term, with eight of his nine outings coming from the bench, and he will be keen to improve on a return of just one goal scored.
Chicago Fire – Xherdan Shaqiri
The Fire may be struggling at the wrong end of the division, but Designated Player and club-record signing Shaqiri has made a good start to life in MLS. Former Liverpool playmaker Shaqiri has registered three goals and four assists in 10 appearances, making him easily Chicago’s biggest attacking threat.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– New York City are unbeaten in eight home MLS matches against the Fire, winning the last six (D2). The six-game run is NYCFC’s longest home winning streak against a single opponent in MLS and equals the Fire’s second-longest road losing streak to a single opponent (six at Kansas City from 2014-21). Only against New England Revolution have the Fire ever had a longer losing streak on the road (nine in a row from 2002-05).
– City are unbeaten in six straight matches, winning five of those (D1), following a 2-0 win over D.C. United. NYCFC have kept four consecutive clean sheets, equaling the club record set in July 2018.
– The Fire’s winless run extended to eight games after a 3-3 draw with the Red Bulls on Wednesday. Chicago took the lead in the 89th minute only to concede the equalizer in stoppage time, the first time the Fire failed to win a match in which they led in the 89th minute since a draw with the Red Bulls in October 2020.
– Alexander Callens opened the scoring for NYCFC against D.C. United on Wednesday, scoring on a header off a corner. Six of Callens’ last seven MLS goals have been scored via headers, while all six of them have been scored off either a corner or free kick (including playoffs).
– Shaqiri scored and assisted on a goal in the Fire’s 3-3 draw with the Red Bulls. He has been involved in seven of Chicago’s last nine MLS goals (three goals, four assists).