As Decision Day 2019 approaches, the Chicago Fire face another crucial Eastern Conference matchup in Ohio this weekend. Looking to continue their strong run of form, the Fire are set to kickoff against 2019 MLS expansion side FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. CT (ESPN+).
With a berth in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs still very much at play, get ready for Saturday's matchup with this week’s Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:
FC Cincinnati (6-22-3, 21 points) was active in the midweek, as they welcomed reigning MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United FC to Nippert Stadium on Wednesday night for the first time. After 90 minutes, the hosts were undone by 2018 Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez, who scored twice in a 2-0 Atlanta win to make it seven-straight home defeats for the 2019 MLS expansion side. Cincinnati is the only team to be formally eliminated from postseason contention in the East, but have a chance to greatly impact the conference's final standings with three matches remaining. After this weekend's match against the Fire, they'll host Orlando City SC and travel to D.C. United, all of which are looking to finish or stay above the seventh place line.
Head coach Veljko Paunovic and the Men In Red (9-12-10, 37 pts.) are riding a 4-0 win over FC Dallas last Saturday into this weekend’s clash, a result that helped move them to within touching distance of a playoff position. All four of the Fire goals came in the first half, courtesy of a CJ Sapong brace and finishes from Przemysław Frankowski and Nemanja Nikolić. The Fire are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, three points shy of the playoff line.
Come Saturday night, a road victory in Ohio would very much keep the Fire’s postseason aspirations in tact. The New England Revolution (10-10-10, 40 pts.) currently occupy the seventh and final MLS Cup Playoff position, three points ahead of both the Fire and the eighth-place Montreal Impact (11-16-4, 37 pts.). Both New England and Montreal are active against Western Conference playoff contenders on Saturday, as the Revolution will host Real Salt Lake, while the Impact travel to meet the L.A. Galaxy.
After getting a goal in his second straight match during the first half of last weekend’s rout of FC Dallas, Przemysław Frankowski is heating up at the right time. The goal was Frankowski’s third of 2019, and he added his eighth assist of the season on Nikolić’s near post finish late in the first half.
“Frankie is really bringing the creative aspect in now, with his assists and goals,” Sapong said. “He’s maybe been our best player these last few games.”
Frankowski and Sapong were both included in the Week 28 MLS Team of the Week for their efforts, making it two TOTW nods in three weeks for Frankowski. The Polish international was previously named to the Week 26 squad after his late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Aug. 31, but was not included in the Week 27 side as the Fire were inactive during the FIFA international window.
After their first half scoring outburst last weekend against Dallas, Sapong and Nikolić currently share the team lead in goals this season with 12 apiece. As it stands, the Fire are one of only two teams that can boast a pair of 12+ goal-scorers on their roster, the other being LAFC with Carlos Vela (28) and Diego Rossi (15).
For Sapong, 12 goals represents the second-highest single-season total of his career. He reached 16 goals in 2017 as a member of the Philadelphia Union.
Saturday’s contest will mark the second and final meeting between the Fire and FC Cincinnati in the 2019 regular season. The Men in Red previously hosted Cincinnati at SeatGeek Stadium in the two clubs’ inaugural meeting in MLS regular season play on July 13, falling 2-1 via a late Fanendo Adi winner for the visitors.
Chicago has played at Nippert Stadium on one previous occasion, facing FC Cincinnati in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match decided by penalty kicks back on June 28, 2017. After 120 minutes of scoreless play, the home side claimed a 3-1 win at the spot to move on in the tournament.