After a three-week break in MLS regular season play, the Chicago Fire are back at home for a Saturday night visit from Real Salt Lake (7 p.m. CT, ESPN+).
As both sides prepare to resume their 2019 campaigns this weekend, get the lowdown on the Western Conference visitors with this week's match storylines, presented by NovaCare.
Saturday’s match will be the third-straight on the road in league play for Salt Lake (6-8-1, 19 points), with a home defeat to LAFC in the fourth round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup sandwiched between. RSL dropped their first two legs of the road swing, most recently falling 4-0 to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on June 1. They currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference standings through 15 matches played.
The Fire (4-6-6, 18 points) will be looking to extend an unbeaten run at home that has stretched to six matches dating back to a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on March 30. The Fire haven’t played a league match since June 1 – a 2-0 defeat on the road at Atlanta United – and also fell in the fourth round of the Open Cup on June 11. Head coach Veljko Paunović’s side currently sit just a point below the playoff line after 16 matches played.
"Six games (unbeaten), we’ll just be looking to add more to that," midfielder Mo Adams said of the Fire's home form. "I think we’ve got to keep picking up points at home because that’s an advantage to us right now. As long as we keep doing that, we’ll be good."
Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailović (USA) and defender Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) have both joined up with their respective national teams for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup tournament since the Fire's last outing.
Mihailović made his Gold Cup debut in a 4-0 U.S. win over Guyana on Tuesday night, after being a late addition to head coach Gregg Berhalter’s roster. Mihailović will remain with the U.S. throughout their tournament run. Calvo did not feature in Los Ticos' tournament-opening 4-0 victory over Nicaragua on Sunday. Both players will be unavailable for Saturday night’s meeting with Salt Lake as a result.
For RSL, forward Jefferson Savarino will not be in attendance as he continues the 2019 Copa America tournament with Venezuela. Savarino has appeared 13 times for Salt Lake so far in 2019, with three goals and an assist to his name.
An Eredivisie Reunion
Should they both take the field at kickoff, Saturday's match will serve as a reunion between former FC Groningen teammates Johan Kappelhof and RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak. Kappelhof and Rusnak played together for a year in Holland, and lifted the 2015 KNVB Cup together in 2015 shortly before making their respective moves stateside.
“He’s a good guy,” Kappelhof told Chicago-Fire.com prior to the pair's first meeting in MLS back in 2017. “I played with him for one year. He scored important goals for us during the cup season that we won. He’s a guy who likes to connect. Good on the ball, good shot, good set piece taker. He’s a No. 10 who likes to have the ball and connect. He’s a good player.”
Kappelhof came out on top of he and Rusnak's first MLS reunion in a 2-0 Fire home victory against RSL back in March 2017. The defender did not play when the Fire traveled to Salt Lake and were defeated 2-1 last season. Rusnak, a Slovakia international, leads Salt Lake with five goals and a pair of assists so far in 2019.
Saturday’s game will mark the 22nd meeting between the two teams since RSL joined the league as an expansion team in 2005. The Fire were 2-0 winners the last time Salt Lake visited Chicago – March 11, 2017 – but fell 2-1 on the road in Utah in the two sides’ only meeting last season.
Historically, the head-to-head regular season series between the Fire and RSL has been tightly contested, with the teams sharing a 7-7-7 record.