There has been plenty of buildup and hype for Saturday’s game between the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC.
That's because these teams had been the top two in the MLS standings for much of the season. However, a recent slump by the Fire (12-7-5, 41 points), four losses in the last five matches, and a slew of injuries to the Fire’s back line may have taken some of the sheen off the match.
It’s still a big one with the Fire already saying the game is sold out. Toronto (13-3-8, 47 points) enters with the best record in the league and some separation in that area as well.
The game will be televised live on CSN with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. A Spanish language broadcast of the match will also be live on CSN+.
After the Fire lost at Montreal on Wednesday, coach Veljko Paunovic said the game against Toronto was “probably the match of the season.” That’s true in that if the Fire fail to win, it probably realistically ends the team’s chase for the Supporters’ Shield. However, Toronto will remain in the lead and the favorite no matter what happens so perhaps the Fire’s priority should be simply securing the second spot in the Eastern Conference and with it a first-round playoff bye. The Fire are two points behind New York City FC (13-7-4, 43 points) for second place.
Given the hype around the match, it’s not good timing for the Fire that three regular starting defenders will be out for the match. Brandon Vincent will be out for a sixth straight game with a quad injury. Matt Polster will miss a second straight with a left knee injury. Joao Meira, who left five minutes into Wednesday’s game with a calf injury, is also out. In addition, winger David Accam is listed as questionable with a right hip injury.
Those absences could have a drastic impact on the Fire’s lineup against Toronto. In Montreal, Paunovic elected to move Johan Kappelhof, the only healthy regular starting defender, from center back to right back. With Meira now out, Paunovic may keep Kappelhof in the center and bring Drew Conner in at right back. Conner has started three games this season, all three at right back.
It goes without saying that taking on the only team in the league that has scored more goals than the Fire with a severely shorthanded defense is not ideal for the Fire. Sebastian Giovinco (11 goals, 6 assists), Jozy Altidore (9 goals, 5 assists) and Victor Vazquez (5 goals, 10 assists) all have had strong seasons for TFC.
In midfield, it will be interesting to see how it plays out with Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger going up against Toronto’s Michael Bradley.
The Fire enter with a club-record nine straight home wins, but none of those were as tough on paper as this one appears to be.
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: CSN (Spanish language broadcast on CSN+)
When: Coverage begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (12-7-5, 41 points), Toronto (13-3-8, 47 points)