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Sizing up the Fire's trip north to take on Minnesota United

MATCH INFO

 
Matchup Chicago Fire (0-1-0, 0 pts.) vs. Minnesota United (1-1-0, 3 pts.)
Date Saturday, March 17 • 1 p.m. CT
Location Minneapolis, Minn. • TCF Bank Stadium
Broadcast MLS LIVE (free)
Injuries, lineup projections, etc. MLS Match Preview

The Chicago Fire are set for their first-ever visit to TCF Bank Stadium to take on Minnesota United on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. CT). The season's first road trip comes on the heels of last Saturday's wild 4-3 defeat at home in the club's 2018 regular season opener, in which the Fire overcame a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead, before ultimately falling to Sporting Kansas City 4-3. Now, with an opportunity at their first three points of 2018, here are the key facts, faces and figures to keep an eye on when the Fire kick off against the Loons:

Key Number: 0.74

2017 Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic wasted little time in resuming his goal-scoring ways in the team's opening match last weekend. After 2018 debutante Aleksandar Katai pulled one back for the Fire in the 70th minute, Nikolic came through with a dramatic brace that -- for a short time -- gave the hosts the lead. 

The pair of goals were Nikolic's 25th and 26th in MLS, respectively, and have put him among some elite company from a historical standpoint. Over 35 appearances, the Hungarian's 0.74 goals per game are far-and-away the best finishing rate in club history as it stands. 

He'll look to keep the goal fest going against former teammate Matt Lampson, who suited up for the Fire from 2016-17 (42 appearances) and now mans the pipes for Minnesota.

Matchup of the Week: Brandon Vincent vs. Ethan Finlay

Loons winger Ethan Finlay provided the spark in his side's 2-1 victory over Orlando City in Orlando last weekend, scoring twice to give his side their first three points of 2018. With Molino sidelined, expect more of the creative weight to shift to Finlay in attack. Along his right touchline, he figures to go head-to-head with Fire left back Brandon Vincent, who isn't shy about getting forward into attack himself. Vincent picked up his first assist of 2018 against Sporting Kansas City, getting on the end of a long cross from Matt Polster and laying off to Nikolic for the Fire's third goal. 

How these two manage one another on Saturday afternoon looks likely to have a hand in shaping the outcome.

One Big Question: How will Minnesota go about replacing Kevin Molino?

Among the biggest news league-wide this week was the revelation of Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino's ACL tear, which will keep him out for the remainder of the season. Molino suffered the injury early in the second half of the Loons' meeting with Orlando City last weekend, and was replaced by midfielder Collen Warner.

Molino had been a key attacking piece for Minnesota since arriving prior to the 2017 season, and had already scored twice and assisted once through United's first two matches played. How head coach Adrian Heath goes about replacing Molino's influence on the field both short- and long-term will be something to watch.

Quote of the Week:

"We just need to do a better job at defending as a group, and make sure that if things don't go our way then we have to regroup and become more compact."

That's midfielder Tony Tchani on how the team has reflected defensively on last weekend's 4-3 defeat. Hear his full thoughts in the video above.

Sizing up the Series:

The two sides have met just once in MLS play, with Minnesota United taking a 2-1 victory at Toyota Park on Aug. 26, 2017.

Fire goalkeeper Patrick McLain spent the 2017 season as a member of Minnesota United and appeared in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round match for the Loons.

Minnesota United sporting director Manny Lagos appeared 10 times with the Fire from 1998-99. Additionally, Minnesota United director of player personnel Amos Magee appeared in eight competitive matches for the Fire from 2001-02 and scored the extra time goal in the Fire’s 2001 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal victory. 

The Breakdown powered by NovaCare:

Fire Weekly hosts Frank Klopas and Paul Tenorio take a hard look at the tactical side of this weekend's matchup:

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