Back to reality for the Chicago Fire.
The team’s coaching staff, office staff and a handful of players focused on the All-Star Game as it took place in Chicago this week. Now, it’s back to regular season games in Major League Soccer.
The Fire get to stay at home when they take on New England on Saturday. The game will be on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
The Fire’s coaching staff was pulling double duty, training the MLS All-Stars and what players remained with the Fire. Five players were not in training with the team with the team’s four all-stars, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Johan Kappelhof, and Djordje Mihailovic, who played and scored in the homegrown game on Tuesday, unavailable.
“I think this week the guys worked very well, the training was with a small group, but very committed,” Paunovic said after the All-Star Game on Wednesday. “The next game is the most important game from now on. I was working still with Chicago Fire all these days. I was working the same way and putting all my energy in that also.”
The Fire (11-5-5, 38 points) already have a pair of wins against the Revolution (7-9-5, 26 points) this season, but there is a possibility that the Fire enter a bit distracted or less prepared than normal. On top of having a number of key players out of training, and the coaching staff’s attention divided, the people involved had extra duties as hosts, so to speak, of the event.
That may not be clearly visible on Saturday, but it could be a small factor.
“I’m very happy how we did, but now we can focus on only Chicago,” Paunovic said.
The match does represent a needed return home for the Fire. After going winless on a three-match road trip, including losing the last two, the Fire can try to extend the eight-match home winning streak the team has enjoyed. Only two of those eight wins were decided by one goal.
The Eastern Conference has tightened up while the Fire struggled on the road. New York City FC is just one point behind the second-place Fire, a surging New York Red Bulls sit three points back and Atlanta is four points behind the Fire. With 13 matches left in the regular season, the race for playoff positions appears to be worth keeping an eye of the rest of the way.
The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent for the third straight game. Arturo Alvarez, who missed last week’s loss in Kansas City, is listed as questionable with a calf injury.
New England, which has won two straight, enters Toyota Park with a mostly clean bill of health.
The match will also be the Fire's first with MLS' new video review system.
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: CSN+ (channel finder)
When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (11-5-5, 38 points), New England (7-9-5, 26 points)