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Match Storylines: Fire, Toronto FC head into pivotal two-game series

Two teams seeking a quick climb up the Eastern Conference table are gearing up for a 7-day period that could greatly influence their ability to do so, as the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC clash on back-to-back Saturdays beginning July 21 at Toyota Park (6 PM, TICKETS). Take a look below at some of the storylines circulating around the squads as they head into "leg 1" in Bridgeview:

Unfamiliar Territory
After falling just short in its quest for an historic CONCACAF Champions League crown earlier this spring, Toronto FC has struggled to regain its record-setting form of 2017. Greg Vanney's side has won only once in its last nine MLS outings, most recently suffering a 2-1 road defeat against an Orlando City SC squad that entered the game with a nine-match losing streak of its own. Still, despite a record of 4-11-4 and an 11-point deficit from the playoff line, few are willing to completely rule out the playoff chances of the recent treble winners as they return to full health.

Trading Places
The Chicago Fire and Toronto FC have been two of the more active clubs in the MLS market over the last week -- and, coincidentally, that activity has included ties between two clubs getting set for key home-and-away fixtures over the next seven days. First, the Fire acquired Raheem Edwards directly from the Montreal Impact but only seven months after Edwards completed his tenure with his hometown Toronto FC. Having risen through the Toronto FC Academy and the club's TFC II squad in USL, Edwards was part of last year's treble-winning squad and received acclaim for his dynamic two-way contributions.

Then, just days later, the Fire and TFC conducted some direct business of their own as rookie Jon Bakero was sent north (along with $50,000 in General Allocation Money) in exchange for Toronto FC midfielder/defender Nicolas Hasler. The 27-year-old Liechtenstein international brings a versatile skillset and valuable experience after also making important contributions to TFC's memorable 2017 campaign. How he and Edwards impact the Fire over the two-game set with Toronto and, more importantly, in the longterm will be something to keep an eye on.

Going For It
Even coming off midweek cup competitions, there's no doubt that both head coaches are eager to collect the full three points come Saturday night at Toyota Park. For its part, Toronto FC has conceded 38 goals to date in 2018 -- one more than it allowed in all of the 2017 MLS regular season. With Aleksandar Katai, Nemanja Nikolic and the Fire attack having shown itself fully capable of finishing its chances this year, coupled with the always-threatening Sebastian Giovinco leading the TFC line, expect plenty of action in and around the penalty areas on Saturday. 

Series History
When last these two teams met, an eventful 90+ minutes were capped by a signature moment for veteran Fire striker Alan Gordon, who latched onto a Bastian Schweinsteiger cross in the 94th minute and delivered a stunning equalizer, completing the Fire's comeback from 2-0 down in the defending MLS Cup champion's home park.

That result snapped a string of six straight wins in the series for Toronto FC and brought the all-time series record to an even 9-9-9 for both sides. Chicago is 5-2-5 at home against TFC, with Toronto winning each of the last two.