An international break may have prevented the Fire from building on their 3-1 triumph over the New England Revolution on Oct. 3, but it provided interim coach Brian Bliss with enough time to heal some niggling injuries and draw up a plan in advance of the penultimate match of the season.
When the Fire (8-18-6, 30 points) return from their 15-day hiatus and line up against playoff-bound D.C. United (14-12-6, 48 points) on Sunday at RFK Stadium (1 p.m. CT; CSN), it'll mark the last opportunity to achieve an objective that's eluded the Chicago club since July 12, 2014: win away from home.
The Men in Red have accrued a dismal 0-11-5 record away from Toyota Park in 2015, adding to a winless stretch dating to last summer. This year alone, the Fire have dropped 18 points from winning positions on their travels: May 15 at New York City FC (2-2 D); June 3 at United (3-1 L); Aug. 16 at Philadelphia Union (3-3 D); Aug. 29 at Orlando City SC (1-1 D); Sept. 5 at Montreal Impact (4-3 L); Sept. 11 at New York Red Bulls (3-2 L) and Sept. 26 at Toronto FC (3-2 L).
For interim coach Brian Bliss, ball retention and attention to detail in critical moments will be crucial if the Fire are to have any chance of stymieing Ben Olsen's group.
"Always on the road it's about trying to have the ball and weathering 15-minute spells when you don't have it and you're under siege a little bit, which is typical of any MLS game," Bliss said. "We don't have any issues scoring goals, it's about trying to keep the other guys off the board."
A near three-week break in play stemming from a bye week and a rescheduled game limited the Fire to just two regular season fixtures in April. Following a 3-2 victory over Toronto FC, 20 days elapsed before the Men in Red's next competitive match, during which the fitness component was heavily stressed by the previous coaching regime.
This time around, playoff hopes will have already been extinguished. But a more meticulous mentality phased in by Bliss and interim assistant coach Logan Pause - newly appointed General Manager Nelson Rodríguez will begin his tenure on Oct. 19 - has injected a newfound energy into members of the Fire first team, and has them feeling a little more optimistic as they approach the final pair of Eastern Conference contests.
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D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. CT
Where: RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
Broadcast: CSN Chicago