Match storylines: Everything to play for as Toronto FC visits Toyota Park


Matchup Chicago Fire (6-12-8, 26 pts.) vs. Toronto FC (12-8-7, 43 pts.)
Date Saturday, September 10 • 7:30 p.m. CT
Location Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
TV CSN Chicago Plus
Radio (Spanish) 97.5 FM Poder
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

The Chicago Fire return to action against Toronto FC Saturday night for the second of three-straight matches at Toyota Park. Coverage of the match begins with kickoff at 7:30 p.m. CT on CSN Chicago Plus. The Fire are riding high after last weekend's 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union, and will need to keep that momentum rolling if they're to remain alive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. With that said, here are five factors that could play into the result come Saturday night:

The Fire are eager to get back onto the pitch after last weekend’s 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park, a result that marked their 12th consecutive home match without a loss. An own goal from Philadelphia’s Roland Alberg started things off, before Michael de Leeuw and Arturo Alvarez finished things emphatically in front of the Harlem End. There is a definite sense of urgency surround head coach Veljko Paunovic’s team, as they currently reside eight points out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with eight matches remaining.  

“We have a great opportunity in front of us starting with the next game,” Paunovic said on Tuesday. “But of course (the remaining) eight games will be eight finals for us.”

Toronto is coming off a 1-0 defeat to Canadian rivals Montreal Impact on Aug. 27th, their first loss since a mid-July trip to San Jose’s Avaya Atadium and their first shutout since a 0-0 Canadian Championship draw at Montreal in early June.

Bring in the ringers
These two teams have squared off once already this season, a 1-0 victory to the home team in a July 9 contest at BMO Field. However, there figures to be plenty of new faces to factor into the outcome. July’s meeting didn’t feature U.S. internationals Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore or goalkeeper Clint Irwin, all of which could make appearances at Toyota Park come Saturday night. The biggest change, however, will be the omission of reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco, who assisted on the game-winning goal in July’s contest. The Italian international is currently sidelined with an injury to his quad. That first meeting also saw the second-half debut of Fire forward Michael de Leeuw, who has since become a mainstay in Paunovic’s first-choice starting eleven. Fellow July signees Luis Solignac and David Arshakyan figure to be in the mix for selection as well, neither of whom were yet around for Chicago’s first of two 2016 trips to Toronto.

Heating up
Even without Giovinco on the pitch, both sides are bringing an attacking mindset into Saturday night. For Toronto, Altidore’s presence since returning from injury in late July has resulted in five goals and an assist in his eight matches played, as well as a 6-1-1 Toronto record over that span. Altidore also became the United States’ all-time leading goal-scorer in World Cup qualifying matches with two goals in the U.S.’ 4-0 Tuesday night victory over Trinidad & Tobago in Jacksonville.

On the Fire side, de Leeuw has enjoyed back-to-back matches with both a goal and an assist to his credit. In the Fire’s last two matches -- a loss at D.C. and the 3-0 win over Philadelphia -- de Leeuw has been the first Fire player on the scoresheet and set up the goal that followed. The MLS Team of the Week member has found a home playing underneath Luis Solignac, hurting the opposition with his distribution and trailing runs into the box. Arturo Alvarez, meanwhile, comes into Saturday having scored or assisted on a goal in three straight matches

A Niagara wall
Make no mistake -- while Toronto’s attack gets the headlines, head coach Greg Vanney’s defensive unit has most certainly pulled its weight this season. Toronto has allowed the second-fewest goals in the league with a total of 28, a significant step forward after tying for most goals allowed in 2015. Additionally, they own the league’s lowest goals against average in road contests with 1.27 given up per away contest.

The Fire will look to get on the board early in this one for a couple of reasons. Both of these teams own impressive defensive numbers in the second half of games played. Toronto’s 12 goals allowed in the second frame is an MLS best, while the Fire rank fourth league-wide in the category at 18. However, Toronto’s 16 goals allowed in the opening 30 minutes of games this season is the highest total in the league. Paunovic will want to crack things open early come Saturday night with three points at stake.

#CHIvTOR all-time
Toronto earned a 1-0 victory in the July 9 meeting, keeping a clean sheet against the Fire for the first time in 12 matches in the series. Still, Chicago owns the all-time series against Toronto with a 9-5-8 record since the Canadian side entered the league in 2007. In addition, Toronto has never won inside the walls of Toyota Park, where Chicago boasts an unbeaten record of 5-0-5 in 10 matches.