After a disappointing home draw against Montreal last weekend, there is more emphasis for the Chicago Fire to win the remaining two home games in a three-game homestand.
Next up is the Columbus Crew, which the Fire opened the season against with a 1-1 draw in Ohio. Saturday's match against the Crew will air on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
These next two home games, this one and against New England next Saturday, represent a key opportunity to gather some points before the Fire head out on a three-game road trip against tough opposition (Toronto, New York Red Bulls, LA). Columbus, though, is riding a three-game winning streak and leads the Eastern Conference.
The importance of the games is not lost on Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.
"We believe that we are improving," Paunovic said. "We are still in a good spot and we are building that momentum. It's most important to win our games at home, but building that momentum so we can have a long winning streak and that's what we are looking for. All our energy, all our thoughts are directing towards building that momentum. The momentum that we couldn't build in the past and we were very close. I think we are getting there now, too."
For David Accam, a match against the Crew means seeing some familiar faces. A pair of Accam's countrymen and fellow Ghanaian national team teammates, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah, are on the Crew. Accam, a left wing, goes against Afful, a right back, often during matches and beat Mensah when he scored the Fire's goal in Columbus in March.
"It's cool because I knew these guys since childhood and it's always fun when I go against them," Accam said. "When I scored that goal, [Afful] was like 'You only score like that against us so we need to take our revenge next game.'"
Mensah may not be available due to a hamstring strain. He was not a full participant in training this week. Homegrown player Alex Crognale filled in for Mensah at centerback in last week's 2-0 win against Orlando.
Berhalter on Mensah: "Again, it's going to come down to a last-minute decision." #CrewSC— Andrew Erickson (@AEricksonAU) April 7, 2017
Columbus may have an addition in the form of Kekuta Manneh. The speedy winger was recently acquired in a trade with Vancouver and could make his Crew debut. He could give another weapon to an attack that already features Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, who have three goals each so far this season.
For the Fire, Matt Polster could be making his debut. The midfielder has been working his way back from a knee injury suffered early in the preseason and was a full participant in training this week. He and Luis Solignac, who is dealing with a left knee strain, are both questionable. Juninho will be serving his red card suspension after getting two yellows against Montreal.
Michael de Leeuw had six stiches in his left hand after getting stepped on against Montreal. He was in training this week with a protective glove on his hand, but is still listed as questionable as he regains fitness from a hamstring injury.
The match also is the second game of the Bastian Schweinsteiger era. The Crew are well aware of the Fire's new German midfielder.
"We have to be ready for every time (Schweinsteiger) has the ball, he can make the final pass," defender Nicolai Naess told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to be ready for everything. We have to look at the video of how they played their last game."
Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: CSN+ (channel finder)
When: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (1-1-2, 5 points), Crew (3-1-1, 10 points)