Not long ago, beating a Western Conference opponent quickly became a millstone for the Chicago Fire. After succumbing to five consecutive defeats, a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo revitalized Frank Yallop’s men, propelling them to their first-ever win over Seattle Sounders FC on July 11, and, most recently, a spirited 2-0 triumph over then-Western Conference leaders FC Dallas at Toyota Park.
The Fire (6-11-4, 22 points) will find themselves entangled in their second-to-last cross-conference clash of 2015 on Friday night, squaring off against the Portland Timbers (9-8-6, 33 points) with momentum in their favor and a new addition to possibly call on to deliver the goods within the raucous confines of Providence Park.
Speaking to reporters through a translator Thursday afternoon, the club’s newest Designated Player Gilberto – fresh off his loan stint with Brazilian outfit Vasco de Gama – is raring to go and ready to be called upon. After successfully acquiring his P1 visa and meeting up with the team late Wednesday, he passed a physical Thursday morning, rendering himself available for selection against Caleb Porter’s side.
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“I’m in very good shape,” he said. “I’ve been practicing, I’ve been training. I’ve only been away from training for a couple weeks, but I feel I’m good to go for the next game already. Hopefully I can get in and contribute and help the team get a win.
“This is a very qualified group from my first couple days here. I hope to use my experience that I had in Brazil for the last year to help the group and hopefully contribute with my strengths to help the group win games.”
The task won’t be insurmountable, as the Fire demonstrated in their first win against Seattle in 10 attempts. But the challenges presented by one of the league’s more ear-splitting atmospheres, along with a winless record against the Timbers in five previous meetings and without a win on their travels in league fixtures since last July, will warrant another dutiful and wholehearted effort from the Men in Red if they have any hopes of continuing their ascent up the Eastern Conference table.
A more manageable schedule between Friday and next Sunday’s visit to Philadelphia to face the Union, however, leaves Yallop more at ease considering the recent stretch of five matches in two weeks in which the Fire emerged with a 2-2-1 record.
Quick turnarounds and midweek games – one of which saw the Men in Red secure their passage to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals – made for difficult transitions from match to match. This time around, more breathing room means more room to focus on maximizing production in MLS play, while bearing in mind next Wednesday’s momentous Open Cup bout.
“What I like about the schedule is that we play Friday night, Wednesday, Sunday, so it’s a big spread between the games," Yallop said earlier this week. "It’s better than Saturday or Sunday with a Wednesday, Saturday sort of schedule. We’ll be rested and ready to go in all three of those games. Focus-wise it doesn’t change. Three points Friday, a final to get to Wednesday, and another three points on Sunday. That’s the only focus we have is getting points in those two leagues games and trying to get to a final in another game. Not an easy week but it could be a good week if it all works out.”
Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire
Kickoff time: 10 p.m. CT
Where: Providence Park; Portland, Ore.
TV information: UniMás