Saturday's Eastern Conference bout at Toyota Park between the Fire and New England Revolution is an opportunity for the Men in Red to salvage self-pride from a displeasing season.
But for the fans who have endured the ups and downs in recent years and remember the team's successful run during the early 2000s, a special halftime ceremony will accompany matchday proceedings to commemorate a player who championed the club's three, core values: tradition, honor and passion.
Former Fire Original and forward Ante Razov will become the eighth inductee into the Ring of Fire, and will be joined by fellow members Peter Nowak (inducted in 2003), Frank Klopas (2004), Luboš Kubík (2005) and Peter Wilt (2006). The image of his No. 9 jersey, in which Razov netted a club-record 76 goals in two stints in Chicago, will hang from the east façade of the stadium for all to see.
“He was ice-cold around the box. He could finish," Fire interim head coach Brian Bliss said Thursday. "When we talk about guys whose pulse goes up around the box, I think his went down in the box. He was calm, cool and could bury the difficult shot, but he could also hit the precision and placement shot as well. Decent size, always, and could get his head on a few balls as well. We all like lefties, so anything a lefty does always looks better.”
A key component of head coach Bob Bradley's group in 1998, Razov helped the Fire win MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the inaugural year. Razov currently serves as the assistant coach for Seattle Sounders FC.
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Preview: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (Saturday, Oct. 3; 7:30 p.m. CT on My50 Chicago)
With postseason aspirations out of the picture, the Fire return to Toyota Park for the penultimate home match of the 2015 campaign.
Having just two days to work with players prior to a two-game road swing (a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact and 3-2 defeat to Toronto FC), Bliss is more reassured this time around after getting a full week of training under his belt.
“I’d call it a luxury, yeah,” he said after training Thursday, “because we’re able to implement a little bit more on the mindset. We’re not moving mountains in the short amount of time, but we’re trying to get the collective group to be thinking in the same way about the game, and about how we want to play the game. You’re not going to execute everything, but if we can get the majority thinking the same way, it’s very helpful.”
The Fire's 21-19-11 all-time regular season record against the Revolution includes a 12-5-8 record in fixtures played at home. Saturday marks the third and final meeting between both sides this season. Jay Heaps' group dealt the Men in Red a comprehensive 2-0 defeat in Foxborough on June 13 before escaping from Toyota Park with a point in the teams' 2-2 draw on July 25.
- Midfielder Patrick Nyarko emerged from the setback at Toronto with a knock to his knee, but will be fit and available against New England. "He took two days off here to take the pressure off a little bit," Bliss said. "He came back out today (Thursday) and looked fine.”
- Defender Ty Harden was a late scratch with an adductor strain, and will be held out of Saturday's encounter vs. the Revolution. “He probably could suit up, but I don’t think it makes sense to run him out there," Bliss said. "We’ll give him the extra time needed, and hopefully he’s available for selection the next game.”