The rivalry -- bound by geographical proximity and hostility -- between the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew SC has produced some memorable encounters since its inception in 1998.
History has favored the Men in Red, who've registered 24 victories in 54 league encounters between the two sides. But the Black & Gold have gradually stemmed the tide of the Fire's dominance in their last five MLS meetings -- notching three wins and two ties -- most recently demonstrated in Wednesday night's 1-0 triumph at Toyota Park. A 41st-minute goal from Kei Kamara sealed Crew SC's first win away from home all season, leaving Fire head coach Frank Yallop bemused by a grim first-half performance.
"You've got to address Wednesday and then let it go," Yallop said Saturday. "We allowed a good team to play at our place and we can't let that happen again. It's a little different now, we're away from home, it's going to be baking hot. I want to see fight and spirit, not just from the start, but for the 90 minutes."
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On Sunday, Crew SC and the Fire converge for the third and final time in 2015, crowning the back end of their home-and-home series at Mapfre Stadium in front of a national audience (4 p.m. CT; ESPN2). The victory in midweek propelled Gregg Berhalter's group to second place in the Eastern Conference table, six points adrift of first-placed D.C. United and a comfortable seven points above the red line. Meanwhile, the Fire -- 11 points behind Crew SC -- are hoping to draw on a 2-2 draw against Columbus on May 22 as motivation to perhaps emerge from the Arch City with another result.
The Black & Gold have compiled a 6-2-2 record at home, losing out only to the New York Red Bulls in late March and the Montreal Impact on June 6. Moored to the foot of the standings on 18 points, the Men in Red know full well the task that lies ahead as they seek to buck the possibility of giving in to another losing trend.
"I think it's been pretty solid," Yallop said when questioned about his team's leadership. "It's never easy when you're not winning and it's never easy when you haven't got the same lineup. You can't lead from the treatment room. It's about being on the field and doing it, and we've not had our most experienced players -- Jeff [Larentowicz], Shaun [Maloney] -- that much. It's hurt us a little bit.
"Leadership grows. You can't just snap your fingers, sign one guy and all of a sudden everyone gets led by him. It's got to grow and mature. I think we're in a position now where we're still behind, but we still have a chance. We're getting some of our guys back, and if we add to the squad -- which we're trying to do -- and get everyone on the field, we have no issues with it. In the meantime, when you're not winning it's tough."
With matches coming thick and fast, the prospect of a quick turnaround -- pending Sunday's outcome -- could bode well for Yallop's delegation, which is relishing the opportunity to do a number on their counterparts and exact revenge for Wednesday's aftermath.
"I'm excited about it, the guys can't wait to get after it," Yallop added. "They know that that [Columbus game] wasn't us. There's nothing better than a few days later, you get a chance to put it right. Columbus are a good side, I've said it all along. They're a good side at full strength.
"I'm going to change our lineup just to be fresh. It's game management with our squad. With a Saturday-Wednesday schedule, bodies break down and we can't afford that right now. Guys will get a chance to play and hopefully it gets us a good result."