The 2016 Chicago Fire season will end Sunday and it has been over in terms of chasing a playoff spot for a few weeks, but coach Veljko Paunovic still believes the team has something to play for beyond trying to be a spoiler.
Paunovic wants to see his team avoid finishing last in the league for a second straight year. If the Fire can win at Toronto FC on Sunday, which will be televised on CSN with coverage beginning at 3 p.m., there is a chance the Fire can move ahead of Houston in the standings. The Fire (7-16-10, 31 points) are two points behind Houston, which plays at Colorado as part of the league’s simultaneous kickoffs to close the regular season.
“I think we owe to our job, to our fans, to our club, to everyone in the league professionality and we have to play the game the best we can,” Paunovic said earlier this week. “That’s very important for me. On the other end there is another motivation which motivates me even more. We have the opportunity if we win the game to win that second game in a row, second game on the road this year, but at the same time… we have the opportunity to escape from the bottom in the overall standings.”
Of course, winning on the road against a playoff team won’t be easy. The Fire are 1-13-2 on the road this year and Toronto (13-9-11, 50 points) is playing to get a first round bye in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Toronto just got reigning league MVP Sebastian Giovinco back from injury. Giovinco played all 90 minutes and had an assist in the 2-2 draw at Montreal last week after missing the previous five games. Giovinco did not play when TFC won 2-1 at Toyota Park on Sept. 10.
“We have to be on top of our performance to play against a team like Toronto and players like Giovinco and other guys,” Paunovic said. “I think they have a very good team.”
In addition to Toronto’s win in Bridgeview, TFC also beat the Fire 1-0 on July 9 in Canada.
“We know what we can expect from them,” Paunovic said. “We know how euphoric they’re going to be, the people, the stands, the crowd and everything.”
The Fire will be without forward Luis Solignac, who will be serving a suspension after being red carded in last week’s win against New England. David Arshakyan, who joined the Fire in August, could see more minutes or get a start in Solignac’s absence. Defender Johan Kappelhof is the only listed injury. Kappelhof is listed as questionable with a hip injury.
The game could also mark the last appearance in a Fire jersey for some of the players. After another disappointing season, more turnover in the roster should be expected. How much change there will be remains to be seen, but in all likelihood at least a couple of Sunday’s starters won’t be back.
Chicago Fire at Toronto FC
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario