Having gone nearly three weeks since their last competitive match, the Chicago Fire are on the verge of putting their 'mini preseason' behind them as Frank Yallop's side prepares for its first-ever clash against expansion side New York City FC (1-3-3; 6 points) Friday night at 7 p.m.
In front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Toyota Park, the Men in Red are seeking their third consecutive victory, while Jason Kreis' contingent is working toward restoring a winning culture after going winless in their previous five matches.
Though unwelcome, the Fire have used the 20-day break perhaps as a trump card to address injury concerns with Matt Polster, Michael Stephens and Quincy Amarikwa, as well as to get Victor Perez and Jason Johnson acclimated to their new environment.
“The guys have trained very well in the three weeks we’ve had off,” Yallop said Wednesday. “We’ve put a lot of work in. I think it worked perfect, and the guys look fit and ready for this game."
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As Polster, Stephens and Amarikwa worked their way back into full training and in contention for selection on Friday night, NYCFC have been dealing with injury issues of their own.
Other than defender George John, who underwent knee surgery last July, five players did not participate in the club's 1-0 home loss to the Portland Timbers on April 19.
Among them, Designated Player signing David Villa has yet to train fully with the squad after coming off at halftime with a hamstring injury against the Philadelphia Union three days prior. Midfielder Mix Diskerud picked up an ankle injury before the Portland match, but Kreis is optimistic he will be available.
Meanwhile, Tony Taylor ruptured his ACL in the 35th minute of that match and is out for the season. Manchester City loanee Shay Facey (hip) trained fully, but flew back to England Wednesday night to deal with a personal family matter, thus rendering him unavailable for selection against the Fire. Defender Josh Williams (adductor strain) is doubtful, while Jason Hernandez (calf), who also didn't train Thursday, is ruled out.
Needless to say, injuries have unluckily dominated a sizable portion of the conversation before the two sides butt heads for the first time, yet Yallop was full of praise for Kreis' outfit despite their setbacks.
“They’ve had a year to prepare and they’ve got some good players on their books,” he said. “All of us just look at results and that’s what you get judged on, but I’ve seen them play and they’ve played well. They give up goals here and there, like every team does. We do.
“Whether their guys are injured or not, their squad is strong.”
For now, the Men in Red continue to focus on themselves, wary that any team can win at any time in MLS. Yallop, who emphasized that the Fire get on the front foot come Friday, said he doesn't expect anything different from their Eastern Conference opponent, who have yet to win on their travels.
"We know that we’ve got to be on top of our game," Yallop said. "We’ve had a big break. They’re going to come out trying to win the game, we’re going to come out and try to win at home. I see a game with two teams that aren’t going to sit back, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to it.”
The pre-game narrative will certainly elevate the stakes. With both sides sitting on six points apiece in the East, the Men in Red, following back-to-back wins, have two games in hand. NYCFC haven't won since a 2-1 home-opening win over last year's MLS Cup finalist New England Revolution at Yankee Stadium on March 15.
Check out the video above to hear what Yallop and Shaun Maloney had to say after training on Thursday.