Fire

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

You don't have to tell the Chicago Fire that it's tough to play on the road in Major League Soccer.

The Fire went winless on the road in 2015 and had a 1-14-2 road record last year. In the first two games away from Toyota Park this season, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw at Columbus and got thumped 4-0 in Atlanta.

With that in mind, the Fire start a three-game road trip Friday at Toronto.

"It's just an hour flight to Toronto. I see just a normal thing," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Everyone around the world is playing and traveling. I know it's hard and I know it's a long season, but we just started the season actually and we just have to prepare well."

The Fire's recent track record on the road isn't that much of an anomaly around MLS. Road teams are 11-38-18 to start the 2017 MLS season. Both the win percentage (16.4 percent) and the points per game (0.76) are down from last year (18.8 league-wide road win percentage, 0.88 points per game in 2016). Compare that to the top four European leagues (Germany, Spain, England, Italy) where in the current season road teams have a win percentage ranging from 27 percent to 31 percent.

There are plenty of factors that go into why teams struggle away from home in MLS, some of which are not unique to the league or the sport. Obviously, there's the fan support when playing at home, something that has become more prevalent as more teams draw big crowds and have their own stadiums. There's also the travel. MLS teams are traveling bigger distances than many other leagues around the world due to the size of the U.S. and don't have regular chartered flights like other top tier American professional sports leagues. Then there's the parity within MLS. The gap between the top and bottom teams is smaller than in the top European leagues so a factor like playing at home carries more weight.

"There's lots of different things you can say," defender Michael Harrington said. "Obviously the fans give the other team a boost, but I try to look at it as just another game. It's 11 players against 11 players inside the white lines and there's no reason we can't go there and win a game, especially the way that we're playing."

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The Fire are coming off a three-game homestand. During that run of games they picked up two wins and a draw and moved into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Given the numbers and the Fire's recent road record, getting seven points out of a possible nine on the road trip, which also features games at the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy, seems highly unlikely. If the Fire can get three or four points though, that would be a better than average return. If it's less than that, they would be among the majority of MLS teams, which have a good home record and a bad road record.

"I think we need to put the same identity what we make here in Toyota Park on away games," forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We need to believe that we also can win in away games, not just here in Chicago. This is our first step. We know that the last year the Fire have some problems in away games. We want to change this."