When the Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact do battle on Saturday, it'll be the first of three meetings between the two sides in 2015. It also signals the return of former Fire forward (1998-99) and head coach Frank Klopas (2011-13) to Toyota Park for just the second time since parting ways with the club in October 2013, along with a quartet of other former Men in Red.
Inundated with the perpetual reminders, current head coach Frank Yallop insists it's just another game.
“Obviously, there are some connections with the club, with Frank [Klopas] being the coach here and now he’s in Montreal," Yallop said. "It’s about three points for this club and that’s all I care about. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”
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The homecoming for defender Bakary Soumare (2007-09, 2013-14), midfielders Dilly Duka (2013-14) and Justin Mapp (2003-10), and forward Dominic Oduro (2011-12), however, may be of little or no avail for the visiting Impact, despite gathering momentum following back-to-back victories at Stade Saputo, thumping Real Salt Lake 4-1 and recording a 2-1 victory against an in-form FC Dallas. Mapp - nursing a surgically repaired, dislocated elbow - and Oduro - recovering from a groin injury - trained separately from the group as recently as Wednesday and appear unlikely to feature on Saturday.
Klopas' outfit is winless at Toyota Park in four meetings with the Men in Red and is 0-18-7 in MLS away matches dating back to Sept. 8, 2013, when Patrice Bernier and Marco Di Vaio each netted twice to sink 10-man New England Revolution 4-2 at Gillette Stadium.
Since then, the Impact has been outscored 46-16 away from home, a comparable storyline to 2014 when the club finished the season in last place in the Eastern Conference behind the Fire. With 58 goals conceded, the Impact recorded the league's second-worst goal differential behind defunct Chivas USA and failed to win a single match away from home in the regular season.
Aside from the auspicious arrival of Argentinian Designated Player Ignacio Piatti in July of last year, little has changed for an Impact side whose 2013 struggles infiltrated Klopas' first full season in charge. Unshakable success in cup competitions - strikingly delineated in this year's inimitable journey to the CONCACAF Champions League Final - has become the team's distinguishable trait in recent years, a keynote that Klopas has yet to resolve and replicate in MLS since beginning his tenure.
Having gone neck and neck in the Eastern Conference standings since 2013, though, the Fire and the Impact give the impression that 2015 will be no different. Six goals in the latter's previous two matches - an improvement from only three in its first five - have paved the way for the reemergence of the quick-fire attack while the former demonstrated its resiliency in the come-from-behind draw against Columbus Crew SC.
“We’ve been down in games and come back, we’ve been up in games and lost the lead; we’ve done it all this season,” Yallop added. “What I do like about the group is it didn’t quit, especially last weekend.
“We’re pretty excited that the team’s starting to look more dangerous in the final third.”
Despite succumbing to a 2-0 deficit just before the hour mark, the Men in Red refused to cave in. Goals from David Accam and Jason Johnson - the first from a center forward - helped the Fire mount a stout rally to save a crucial road point and kindle a previously dithering attack.
With six other Eastern Conference sides competing on Saturday - five of which sit above the Fire in the standings - three points against the Impact are a must and would work wonders as Yallop's group enters June, a pivotal month chock-full of solely in-conference fixtures.
Check out the video above to hear what else Yallop had to say about the match. Stay with CSN for complete coverage of Fire-Impact, beginning with Pregame Live at 7 p.m. CT before kickoff at 7:30 p.m. As always, be sure to tune in to @CSNChicagoFire on Twitter for in-game updates.