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Match Storylines pres. by NovaCare: Fire continue postseason push in Portland

Unbeaten in their last three outings, the Chicago Fire face are set for a Wednesday night west coast road trip when they visit the Portland Timbers. With eight matches remaining in the 2019 regular season, the Fire will look to pick up three more key points toward their playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. 

Ahead of the midweek kickoff on ESPN+ (10 p.m. CT), get familiar with the #PORvCHI Match Storylines presented by NovaCare:

Form Guide

The Timbers (10-9-4, 34 points) enter the midweek among the most in-form sides in MLS, having gone unbeaten in seven of their last eight matches, with five wins in that span. This past weekend, they dispatched Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps at home by a 3-1 scoreline. As it stands, they sit just two points outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, currently in eighth place through 23 matches played.

Like the Timbers, the Fire (7-10-9, 30 points) find themselves eying a spot in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs after a win on the weekend. Head coach Veljko Paunović’s side were the benefactors of some late heroics from German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger in a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Impact on Saturday, and now sit three points back of the playoff line in the East going into Wednesday night.

Individual Honors

After their performances on the weekend, Schweinsteiger and Portland midfielder Renzo Zambrano were each named to the MLS Team of the Week for Week 23. Schweinsteiger’s inclusion stemmed from the aforementioned late goal, as well as an assist on the game’s opening goal via Dax McCarty. Zambrano, a holding midfielder, was given the nod for his defensive contributions to Portland’s 3-1 win over Vancouver.

Happy to Help

Wednesday night’s matchup will be highlighted by a meeting of high-profile Argentinian midfield maestros. Chicago’s Nicolás Gaitán and Portland’s Diego Valeri will lineup across from one another at the outset, each looking to unlock the other’s respective defense from the attacking midfield. Both are in the top-five league-wide for assists so far this season, with Valeri level with NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez in second with 14, and Gaitán tied for fifth-most with nine.

Midweek Finale

With just eight matches remaining, the Fire’s trip to Portland will be their final Wednesday night contest of the 2019 regular season. Including the Portland match, the Fire play five of their final eight matches on the road leading up to their Decision Day visit to Orlando City SC on Sunday, Oct. 6.

Debut on Deck?

After being acquired during last Wednesday’s final day of the MLS summer transfer window, midfielder Micheal Azira could be in line to make his Fire debut in Portland. Azira arrived from Montreal last Thursday and was included in Paunović’s 18-man squad against his former side on Saturday, but did not see the field as a substitution.

#PORvCHI All-Time

Saturday's meeting will be the first and only between these two teams in 2019.  Last season, the Fire and Timbers split points in a 2-2 draw at SeatGeek Stadium via goals from Nemanja Nikolić and Brandon Vincent. The Fire are 0-3-2 in matches played at Providence Park dating back to the Timbers' inaugural season in 2011.