Since a 1-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City, the lingering narrative girdling the Chicago Fire has been that of a lack in clinical finishing and concerns over the inability to get off to a flying start in most of their four away matches this season, all of which have proven to be unsuccessful in the points column thus far.
“For us, now, you’ve seen two different teams; one at home and one on the road,” said midfielder Harry Shipp after training Wednesday. “At home, we had confidence and a little bit of a swagger going forward. We played one-two touch, we moved the ball quickly and made it hard to defend. Then we went on the road and played a totally different way. We’ve got to figure out why that is and how to fix that."
In search of their first result against a Western Conference opponent, the Fire (3-4-0, nine points) return to Toyota Park on Saturday with hopes of stretching their home win streak to four games against a visiting Real Salt Lake.
[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Fire gear]
In his second year at the helm, head coach Jeff Cassar follows in the footsteps of Jason Kreis, who departed for New York City FC after the 2013 campaign. With the strenuous task of safeguarding Kreis' philosophy that led the Claret and Cobalt to a MLS Cup trophy in 2009 and a runners-up finish in 2013, Cassar is feeling the weight of injury and scoring woes that currently sees his side sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
Having gone 496 minutes since netting a goal from one of their own -- a Javier Morales free kick against the San Jose Earthquakes on April 5 -- and only scoring one goal from open play since March 29, RSL is still finding a way to grind out results, as evidenced by the five draws they've accumulated in 2015, tied for second-most in Major League Soccer.
On the back of a weather-delayed, scoreless draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night, it'll be a fifth road test in two months for Cassar's side, which faces a motivated Fire team eager to continue the winning trend at Toyota Park and put their recent loss to Sporting KC behind them for the time being.
“It didn’t damper the spirit of the team because the guys have been training hard," said former RSL and current Fire defender Lovel Palmer. "If you watched the session today, it was very intense. We’re really gunning and looking forward to our game against Real Salt Lake."
“We’ve won three straight at home and we’re really starting to establish our identity at home," right back Eric Gehrig added. "It’s our fortress and we’re letting teams know that they’re not going to come in here and boss us around. We’re going to continue building on what we’ve been doing and hopefully get another result at home on Saturday.”
The Men in Red are 3-2-4 against RSL at Toyota Park and from 2011 to 2013, enjoyed a four-match unbeaten streak before suffering a heart-breaking 3-2 defeat in their most recent meeting on May 3, 2014. After assuming a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to play, last-gasp stoppage time goals by Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata allowed RSL to steal all three points, a match that featured eight of the current Fire players.
On Saturday, RSL will have to make do without Plata, who's recovering from a fractured fifth metatarsal sustained in training at the end of January. Chris Schuler -- a former Fire PDL product -- and Morales are out with a torn medial meniscus and concussion, respectively, while forward Sebastian Jaime is questionable with a right tibia fracture.
For a depleted side struggling to find the back of the net (one goal in four away matches), another gritty performance from a team reliant on its high-pressure system -- behind veterans Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, and youngsters Luis Gil and Jordan Allen -- will be required if they have any chance of stifling the Fire.
“Teams that win championships protect their home turf," Palmer said. "That’s what we definitely want to do and come Saturday against Real Salt Lake, we don’t want to make it any different. We want to win at home, we want to play good for ourselves and we want to entertain the fans because that’s what soccer is about: filling the stadium, playing well and getting three points."
Check out the video above to hear what else Palmer, Gehrig and Shipp had to say. For complete coverage of Fire vs. Real Salt Lake, tune in to Pregame Live beginning at 1:30 p.m. on CSN before kickoff at 2 p.m. The game will start on CSN before switching over to CSN+ at halftime.