"Sharp." "Fast." "Attacking."
When asked to describe the stark contrast between the Fire's 1-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids and 3-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls, rookie Matt Polster was quick to perceive the disparities, highlighting the response his teammates showed in putting together a three-goal effort for the fourth time in regular season play this year.
"I thought we were the better side against Colorado, but unfortunately, we let a goal in early and they just packed it in," said the 22-year-old on Friday, after learning of his call-up to the U-23 U.S. camp.
In essence, the two games - both played at Toyota Park within a span of four days - epitomized the Men in Red's season to date: following up a discouraging result with an encouraging performance, and a desirable scoreline to match it. It's happened more than once this season.
Frank Yallop's men countered a season-opening, three match losing skid with three wins on the trot, followed up back-to-back draws against New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC with a 3-0 drubbing of the Montreal Impact to round out May and built on a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo with their first-ever win against Seattle Sounders FC eight days later.
The list goes on, and, after dethroning the Red Bulls and ending their six-match unbeaten run on Wednesday night, the Fire (7-13-5, 26 points) are craving an encore performance against Orlando City SC (7-12-7, 28 points) Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN+), which marks the beginning of a three-game road trip.
"We've got to feel good about ourselves from Wednesday, and hopefully we're nice and fresh," Yallop said Friday. "They [Orlando] didn't have a midweek game; they had a friendly, but the starters didn't get a midweek game. It's always a little bit in the back of your mind, but our guys are buoyant and ready, and can't wait for the game."
As it stands in the Eastern Conference standings, the Fire have a game in hand on Orlando City, who've shipped 13 goals in their last four games - not including a 3-1 loss in an exhibition against USL's Louisville City FC. With both sides on the outside looking in - the Men in Red sitting two points adrift of a playoff berth - it's all to play for.
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While the Fire enter Saturday night's clash against Adrian Heath's side behind an inspiring display against a red-hot Red Bulls team, the scene changes as six of their nine remaining fixtures will be played away from the confines of Toyota Park. In 11 regular season matches this year, the Men in Red have won none, lost seven and drawn four, a record that stretches further than just the 2015 campaign.
It's a statistic and narrative of the team's poor away form - winless since July 2014 - that suggests an inability to put the finishing touches on predominantly committed performances. If anything can been learned from results league-wide, the right blend of endeavor, clinical finishing and, perhaps a stroke of luck along the way can see any team coming away with a favorable result on the road.
"It just goes to show how some of these other teams have done not so well either," midfielder Michael Stephens added of the parity in MLS. "The fact that we're only two points off is pretty shocking, but it is what it is. A lot of these teams in the bottom of the East, we keep beating each other and then a lot of the teams at the top of both conferences keep winning. ... There's still so much to play for."
Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire
Kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. CT
Where: Citrus Bowl; Orlando, Fla.
Broadcast: CSN Chicago Plus