Match Storylines: Fire kick off three-match road trip at NYCFC


Matchup Chicago Fire (6-13-9, 27 pts.) at New York City FC (12-9-9, 45 pts.)
Date Friday, September 23 • 7:00 p.m. CT
Location Bronx, NY • Yankee Stadium
TV UniMas
Radio (Spanish) 97.5 FM Poder
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

The Chicago Fire begin a stretch of three matches on the road in the course of nine days on Friday night when they take the field against New York City FC. Coverage of the match begins with kickoff on UniMas at 7 p.m. CT. The Men In Red will look to claim their first win against the second-year MLS club in 2016, having played to a loss and a draw in two prior meetings this season. With three road points at stake, here are five factors that could shape the result come kickoff on Friday night:

In the Rearview
The Fire are looking for a return to the form that helped them to two 3-0 wins in four games between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3. They appeared to be en route to another three points Friday vs. D.C. United, but the game ended in a home draw when goals from Razvan Cocis and David Accam -- his 13th across all competitions -- were canceled out by a stoppage-time equalizer by the opportunistic Bobby Boswell. It's not the first time the Fire have dropped points late on in a match, but the Men In Red have shown to be a resilient group and will be eager for their next competitive opportunity Friday at Yankee Stadium. 

On the other side, New York City FC are coming off a draw of their own, a 2-2 result at Yankee Stadium against Western Conference leaders and U.S. Open Cup champions FC Dallas. Khiry Shelton helped earn a crucial point for his side with a 78th minute header past goalkeeper Chris Seitz to help Patrick Vieira's side remain in the hunt for a prime spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The club currently rests in third place in the East, level with the New York Red Bulls on 45 points and two behind leaders Toronto FC.

Frequent Flyers
Friday night’s match kicks off a three-match road swing that head coach Veljko Paunovic and his men must maneuver over the course of the ensuing nine days. A mid-week trip to Seattle against the surging Sounders on Wednesday, Sept. 28th will be next, followed by a Saturday, Oct.1 meeting in Columbus with conference rival Crew SC. The Fire have endured a similar road trip already in 2016. The team undertook a Vancouver/New England/New York cross-country excursion over a span of a single week back in mid-May.

“I think I’m used to it,” forward David Arshakyan said when asked about his first extended MLS road trip. “When I came here, after five days I went to the national team, so it was three or four flights in two weeks, so I think I’m used to it.”

Stepping In
Speaking of Arshakyan, the 22-year-old made his first start in a Fire shirt in Friday night’s draw. The Armenian international went 70 minutes and showed good link-up play with winger David Accam, while Luis Solignac slid underneath to fill the void created by the injured Michael de Leeuw (ankle). With de Leeuw's status uncertain for Friday night, it could create an opportunity for Arshakyan to see further extended playing time and build on last week's shift when he recorded four shots, with one on goal.

“Of course it’s good for me to make the first start,” he said. “Unfortunately we lost our win in the last seconds. Of course it’s disappointing for us, but for me it’s good. I’m happy to play from the start in the lineup, so I’m excited.”

Goals Galore
After winning only once in its first nine MLS home matches in 2016, Vieira's side turned things around to win five straight at Yankee Stadium prior to last week's draw, thanks in part to the offensive production that ranks them among the league’s highest scoring sides. Their 51 total goals through this point in the campaign is good for second-best in MLS, with a third-best 50 assists to their credit as well. Forward David Villa leads the way up top and is looking to make a late push at the league’s Golden Boot and MVP awards. His 17 goals in 2016 are second only to the 20 by the Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips, but Villa has yet to find net in three previous appearances vs. Chicago.

Of course, much of NYCFC's resurgence has come courtesy of the timely goal-scoring of Frank Lampard, who has 12 goals in 18 matches this season. But the Fire will miss Lampard for a third time in three meetings with NYCFC after the 38-year-old English midfielder suffered a calf injury in the first half of last week's outing. Look for the likes of Tommy McNamara, Khiry Shelton, Jack Harrison and the venerable Andrea Pirlo to pick up the slack in Lampard's latest absence.

Keep in mind, however, that the City attack isn’t the only reason fans can reasonably expect a high-scoring affair come Friday night. NYCFC have conceded 52 goals this season, the second-highest total in MLS.

#NYCvCHI All-Time
These two sides have met twice already in 2016. The first came in the 2016 season opener back on March 6, a wild 4-3 affair at Toyota Park that ultimately ended in the visitors’ favor. The second came just a month later, this time a goalless draw at Yankee Stadium. With just four matches played between these two teams since NYCFC’s MLS debut in 2015, the all-time series is split down the middle at 1-1-2.