It’s just the fifth match of the Chicago Fire’s season, but a familiar opponent already awaits on Sunday.
New York City FC, which beat the Fire 4-3 in the first match of 2016 in Toyota Park, now hosts the Fire at Yankee Stadium.
Since that match the Fire have given up just one goal in three matches, a feat the club hadn’t produced since Aug. 2014, and haven’t lost (one win and two draws). On the other side, NYCFC came home for three matches and went winless (two draws and one loss). The Fire haven’t given up a goal in the past five halves of soccer while NYCFC has scored just one goal in its last five halves.
Given the recent turn of fortunes, the teams now have matching 1-1-2 records. The Fire are motivated to get even with the New York foes, and NYCFC is looking for its first win at home in four tries.
“There’s the mental aspect of losing to a team so you probably have to get some revenge and have a better game against them,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “Knowing a few of their strengths and weaknesses and having experienced it already is helpful.”
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Another storyline from the Fire perspective is that a loss or draw in Yankee Stadium would doom the franchise to matching an MLS-record 27-game winless streak on the road. The New York Red Bulls franchise set that record in 2009.
That would be harsh on Paunovic, who is heading into his second road game as Fire coach, but he has been asked about the streak on multiple occasions.
“Playing and winning on the road is more difficult in this league,” Paunovic said. “(This) is something we are aware of, but we strongly believe that the best possible way to win the games on the road is to analyze the opponent, to prepare the best we can prepare from our standpoint.”
The Fire won’t have David Accam for the third straight match and goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who has been relegated to the No. 2 role so far this season, is still out with a wrist injury that has kept him from practicing between the posts the last two weeks.
For New York City, Frank Lampard will be out. Lampard hasn’t played yet this season.
As always, the smaller field at Yankee Stadium, which is listed at 110 x 70 yards while Toyota Park comes in at 120 x 75 yards, changes the game. Paunovic had the practice field at Toyota Park made smaller to help the team adapt.
Following back-to-back shutouts and the first win of the season, the Fire will likely be playing with more confidence. NYCFC should be feeling pretty good as well seeing the only team they’ve beat this season opposite them.
“I think we’re starting to get that belief in ourselves that we’re a different team than last year,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We’re capable of actually going to New York this weekend and getting three points. Obviously we want to score more goals, but I think defensively we’ve been great. We just got to keep that up and take advantage of the opportunities up top.”