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Match Storylines pres. by NovaCare: Fire, Impact jockey for position Saturday night in Chicago

Saturday night is a return home for the Chicago Fire as they welcome the Montreal Impact to SeatGeek Stadium.

With the 2019 postseason looming, both sides will look to claim a vital three points toward the Eastern Conference playoff chase come kickoff at 8 p.m. CT (ESPN+). Dive into Saturday's meeting with Montreal with this week's Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare.

Form Guide

Montreal (10-12-3, 33 points) enter Saturday’s match on the heels of a 2-1 home victory over Canadian Premier League side Cavalry FC on Wednesday night in the first leg of the 2019 Canadian Championship semifinals. The return leg will be held next Wednesday night at Cavalry’s Spruce Meadow’s Stadium, but before that they’ll return to MLS regular season play with Saturday night’s visit to SeatGeek Stadium. Head coach Remi Garde’s side were upended 6-3 by the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, their fifth loss in their last six regular season games. Despite the result, Montreal remain in postseason contention in the Eastern Conference, currently in sixth place through 25 matches played.

The Fire (6-10-9, 27 points) picked up their first road win of 2019 last Saturday in a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo in Texas. Midfielder Nicolás Gaitán and forward Nemanja Nikolić combined for the game’s only goal, a well-constructed set piece finish in first half stoppage time. The win brought the Fire within six points of the Eastern Conference playoff line going into the weekend.

"At this point in the season -- it’s cliché to say -- but every game is a final," Fire captain Dax McCarty said. "We have to treat it like that. We have to treat it like every game is going to be a six-point game. Against Montreal, I believe they’re six points ahead of us in the table and I believe they’re occupying a playoff spot. There’s four or five teams that are all really close and we’re on the bottom half of that. We need to win this game in order to give ourselves a good chance to make the playoffs."

In by Window’s End

With the close of the MLS summer transfer window on Wednesday night, Saturday’s opponents found themselves working together to strike a deal before day’s end. The result was a swap of Fire defender Jorge Corrales and Impact midfielder Micheal Azira, a switch in MLS Allocation Ranking Order (Montreal to No. 1, Chicago to No. 6), and the Fire receiving a second-round 2020 MLS SuperDraft pick.

The move was one of several the Impact announced on Wednesday, additionally acquiring former Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic and re-acquiring Impact academy product Ballou Tabla on loan from Barcelona B using the Allocation Ranking Order spot received from the Fire. The availability of the players for this weekend’s match at SeatGeek Stadium is to be determined.

Defensive Momentum

Another one of the Fire’s summer acquisitions -- defender Jonathan Bornstein -- has helped the Fire find some defensive rigidity since his insertion into head coach Veljko Paunović’s back line. The Fire are riding a pair of clean sheets into Saturday night’s match, their first since earning three-straight back in early May. Goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm has also been a factor, making four key saves in a Man of the Match performance during last weekend’s win in Houston.

Milestone Watching

A pair of Fire forwards are on the brink of achieving personal milestones ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Montreal. After scoring his seventh goal of 2019 last weekend, Nikolić now has 46 regular season goals for the Fire, just two shy of matching Chris Rolfe’s haul of 48 for the second-most career regular season goals scored in Fire history.

In addition, should he feature in Paunović’s chosen XI, CJ Sapong will make his 200th career MLS regular season start. He would join teammate McCarty as one of 30 active players to achieve the 200 start mark in his career.

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Saturday’s game against Montreal will mark the second and final regular season meeting between the two teams this season. The Fire previously faced the Impact at Stade Saputo on April 28, falling 1-0 after conceding a goal from midfielder Omar Browne against the run of play in the 83rd minute. 

Since Montreal entered MLS in 2012, the Fire have produced a 4-1-3 home record against the Canadian side in league play. The most recent meeting between the two teams at SeatGeek Stadium occurred on May 9, 2018, with the Fire taking all three points in a 1-0 win.