The Chicago Fire face a crucial road test against Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night, when the two sides kick off on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. CT.
As the push for the postseason resumes, get set for #CLBvCHI with this week's Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:
Crew SC (8-15-6, 30 points) enter this weekend’s meeting riding a 3-1 victory over newly-established Ohio rivals FC Cincinnati. Forward Gyasi Zardes scored twice in the first half and summer acquisition Luis Diaz added a third to help Columbus defeat the Eastern Conference expansion side away from home. With five games remaining in regular season play, Crew SC currently sit in 11th place in the East.
The Fire (8-12-9, 33 points) remain alive in the MLS Cup Playoffs chase despite a 2-1 defeat on the road to the New England Revolution last Saturday. Defender Francisco Calvo nodded home his third goal of the season for the Fire on a swerving set piece delivery from Nicolás Gaitán, but the Men In Red were unable to claim points on the road. Including Saturday's result, the Fire have taken wins from three of their last five matches.
Eying the East
Heading into this weekend’s slate of games, the Fire sit four points out of the playoff line with five matches remaining. Following Saturday’s trip to Columbus, the Fire will rotate home and away matches over the season’s final four games. They’ll return to SeatGeek stadium on Sept. 14 to host FC Dallas, head to FC Cincinnati Sept. 21, take on Toronto FC at home Sept. 29, and cap the regular season with a Decision Day trip to Orlando City SC on Oct. 6.
Toronto (37 point) and Orlando (34 points) currently sit just ahead of the Fire in the Eastern Conference standings.
After serving a two-game suspension for a red card infraction received against the Portland Timbers on Aug. 14, midfielder Aleksandar Katai will be available for selection for head coach Veljko Paunović on Saturday night. Katai has four goals and five assists in 24 matches played this season.
As announced on Wednesday, Calvo will join up with the Costa Rican Men’s National Team for a friendly against Uruguay on Friday, Sept. 6. The 26-year-old will be available for selection on Saturday night, and will depart for Costa Rica following the conclusion of the match in Columbus. In addition, midfielder Djordje Mihailović will take part in Under-23 U.S. Men's National Team camp as they prepare for the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship.
For Crew SC, Zardes and midfielder Wil Trapp were called into the U.S. Men’s National Team for a pair of September friendlies against Mexico (Sept. 6) and Uruguay (Sept. 10). They’re expected to be available for Saturday’s match.
With the aforementioned assist in New England, Gaitán hit the 10 assist mark in 2019. By doing so, the Argentine became the first Fire player to hit double digits in the category since Patrick Nyarko accomplished the feat in 2010. His 10 assists are currently the sixth-highest total in the league.
Saturday’s contest against Columbus will mark the second and final meeting between the two teams in the 2019 regular season. The Fire previously hosted Crew SC at SeatGeek Stadium on July 17, earning a point in a 2-2 draw. Overall, the Men in Red have produced a 26-19-20 record against Columbus since entering the league in 1998.
Former Fire midfielder David Accam currently plies his trade in Columbus, while Fire assistant coach Eric Gehrig played for Crew SC from 2011-2014.