Sunday marks the Chicago Fire's final home match of the 2019 MLS regular season, as the Men In Red host Toronto FC and look to claim three points towards their on-going MLS Cup Playoffs push.
In what will be a pivotal Eastern Conference contest at home, prepare for kickoff on Sunday (4 p.m. CT | ESPN+) with this week’s Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:
Toronto FC (12-10-10, 46 pts.) have clinched a spot in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs coming out of a 1-1 road draw last weekend at LAFC. Head coach Greg Vanney’s side are unbeaten in eight-straight matches in MLS play heading into their Wednesday night encounter with the Montreal Impact in Leg 2 of the Canadian Championship Final. Toronto enter their home leg of the series down 1-0 on aggregate with a spot in the Concacaf Champions League on the line.
The Fire (9-12-11, 38 pts.) picked up a point on the road in a 0-0 draw with FC Cincinnati last Saturday, a result that kept their postseason hopes very much alive. As it stands, the Men In Red sit in eighth place, four points out of the seventh and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with two matches to play. Sunday’s match is the Fire’s final home match of the regular season, where they’ve lost just twice (8-2-6) in 2019.
Eying the Line
As mentioned above, the Fire have everything to play for still with a pair of matches remaining on their regular season schedule. With the New England Revolution currently occupying the final MLS Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Fire will hope for a win against Toronto FC and favorable outcomes from both of the Revolution’s matches this week. On Wednesday night, they’ll travel to Portland to take on the Timbers, then return home Sunday for a meeting with NYCFC. For a full roundup on the remaining postseason contenders in the East and their respective outlooks, check out our Postseason Primer.
With last weekend’s 0-0 draw in Cincinnati, the Fire defensive unit secured its third clean sheet in its last five matches, and second in a row. Since the close of MLS’ secondary transfer window on Aug. 7, the Fire’s 1.14 goals conceded per game represents the fourth-lowest total in the league. The addition of Jonathan Bornstein on July 22 has provided a steadying presence to the left side of the Fire backline, while fellow in-season addition Kenneth Kronholm has continued to settle into his role between the sticks in Chicago. Kronholm’s goals against average is down to 1.28, good for seventh-lowest in MLS (among goalkeepers with 1,000+ minutes played).
With two games to play, midfielder Nicolás Gaitán is on the brink of etching his name into the Fire history books for his work in attack this season. The 31-year-old currently leads the team with 11 assists, just three shy of the Fire single-season record of 14 dually held by Jerzy Podbrozny (1998) and Peter Nowak (2000). Gaitán has been the Club’s most effective architect in attack in a decade, with his 2.83 chances created per game representing the Fire’s highest individual total since 2009 (the beginning of Opta’s advanced stats tracking).
With the Club having announced its intentions to play at Chicago’s Soldier Field beginning in 2020, Sunday’s match marks the Club’s final MLS regular season match at SeatGeek Stadium. Since the stadium’s opening match on June 11, 2006 – a 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution - the Fire have gone 101-54-73 in regular season play. Among the memorable moments in the Club’s 14-season tenure in Bridgeview, the Club won its fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in a 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy in 2006, hosted seven MLS Cup Playoff matches, and inducted five members into the Ring of Honor.
Sunday’s matchup against Toronto FC will mark the second and final meeting between the two teams this season. Chicago and Toronto previously battled to a 2-2 draw at BMO Field on April 6. Midfielder CJ Sapong and forward Nemanja Nikolić each recorded a goal in the 2-2 draw. The Fire are 5-3-5 all-time against Toronto in matches played at SeatGeek Stadium.