The perception of the Chicago Fire has changed drastically in the past three months.
The days of the Chicago Fire's road winless streak that endured from the end of 2014 through most of 2016 are gone and now the team enters a road game at New England with expectations of winning, and they aren't far-fetched.
The Fire visit the New England Revolution on Saturday hoping to extend a current eight-game unbeaten streak which includes Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup win at Saint Louis FC. Coverage begins on CSN at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
On this date last year the Fire had a 2-5-5 record and didn't show much sign of progress in Veljko Paunovic's first year. Now as a second-year coach, things have changed for Paunovic and the Fire (8-3-4, 28 points).
"We flipped the situation from the last year 180 (degrees)," Paunovic said last week. "Last year at this point we were probably second from the bottom and now we’re second from the top. That’s something that shouldn’t be casual and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Everyone contributes to that, especially the players, the whole organization and the club. Our fans who are great helping us here coming and we have every time when we play at home we feel like we have our fortress, our home. We are strong here. We just have to translate that when we play on the road. I think we are getting there. We are not changing our style when we play on the road and we can see that the other teams are respecting us. It’s the long work in progress and it’s very nice to see that there are some good performances.”
While Wednesday's win in Missouri against a minor league team isn't the greatest proof of the Fire's improvement on the road, the team is also unbeaten in three straight MLS road games.
New England, like the Fire and other teams in MLS, has a vastly better record at home as opposed to on the road. The Revolution (5-5-5, 20 points) are unbeaten at home (5-0-2) and winless on the road (0-5-3). The Fire are unbeaten at home (7-0-1) and have one win on the road (1-3-3). So while things have changed for the Fire this year, a draw would still be a positive result.
Both teams are coming off a win in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. New England beat Rochester 3-0 and sat the likes of Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara while other key players in Diego Fagundez, Gershon Koffie and Kelyn Rowe came off the bench. The Fire played a lineup of mostly regulars at Saint Louis FC, including Dax McCarty in his return from the national team, but rested Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Accam, Nemanja Nikolic and Joao Meira.
These two teams already played this year in Schweinsteiger's third game in a Fire uniform. He scored and Nikolic had two goals in a 3-0 Fire win after New England suffered a red card in the first half.
"When we played against Atlanta (last week) we said that for us is the payback," Paunovic said on the Fire's website. "Now we believe that New England feels the same about us because of the way we won here."
There is one big name on the injury report for either team, New England midfielder Xavier Kouassi. The designated player will be out with a hamstring strain. The Fire will be without goalkeeper Jorge Bava, who hasn't started since April 29 and has elbow tendinitis.
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
TV: CSN Chicago
When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Records: Fire (8-3-4, 28 points), Revolution (5-5-5, 20 points)