With Sunday comes the final matchday of the MLS regular season, and the Chicago Fire will wrap up their 2019 campaign with an afternoon visit to Orlando City SC (3 p.m. CT | ESPN+).
As the Men In Red look to send the season off on a high note, check out Sunday's Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare.
Orlando City (9-14-10, 37 pts.) enters Sunday’s contest with incentive to finish their 2019 season strong at home, where they picked up six of their nine regular season wins. Head coach James O’Connor’s side return from a pair of matches on the road -- a 2-1 loss at the Houston Dynamo on Sept. 21 and a 1-1 draw at FC Cincinnati last weekend -- looking for what would be their first win in eight matches. Orlando have been eliminated from a 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs berth, and currently sit in 11th place in the East.
The Fire (9-12-12, 39 pts.) will also hope to end their regular season on a high note come Sunday having been formally knocked out of postseason contention last weekend due to a New England Revolution victory over New York City FC. The Fire fought back for a 2-2 draw with playoff side Toronto FC in their final match at SeatGeek Stadium last weekend, in which second half substitutions Aleksandar Katai and Fabian Herbers provided the Fire’s finishes. The Fire remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with Sunday’s regular season finale to play.
Entering the regular season’s final match, a pair of Fire forwards are vying for the Club’s 2019 Golden Boot honors. Both Nemanja Nikolić and CJ Sapong have bagged 12 goals so far this year to lead the Fire attack. Nikolić has claimed the Club’s regular season scoring honors in each of the last two campaigns, winning the MLS Golden Boot with 24 goals in 2017 and finishing with 15 finishes in 2018. Sapong's current total represents the second-highest of his MLS career, after finishing with 16 goals for the Philadelphia Union in 2017.
The Fire are one of just three teams in MLS that boast a pair of 12+ goal scorers, joining LAFC’s Carlos Vela (31) and Diego Rossi (16) and NYCFC’s Heber (15) and Alexandru Mitrita (12).
A key factor in the Fire’s late push for the playoffs was the defensive solidity displayed over the final third of the season. Steadied by the addition of left back Jonathan Bornstein and the continued improvement of newcomer Kenneth Kronholm in goal, the Fire have kept five clean sheets in their last 10 matches. In that 10-game stretch, the Fire defensive unit has lowered its goals allowed per game from 1.52 to an even 1.00. That figure represents the second-lowest amount in the league in that span, level with Minnesota United and bested only by Real Salt Lake's 0.92 (via Opta).
On a High Note
Coinciding with the Fire's defensive form, the Men In Red are currently on a run of four matches unbeaten dating back to their 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Aug. 31. That equals their season high in 2019, alongside a four-match stretch lasting from their 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on March 30 to their 4-0 win against the Colorado Rapids on April 20. A win or draw at Orlando on Sunday would end the Fire's 2019 campaign with a season-long unbeaten run going into 2020.
Sunday’s contest will mark the second meeting between Chicago and Orlando in 2019. Previously, the two Eastern Conference sides faced each other in the Fire’s home opener on March 9, battling to a 1-1 draw. Sapong scored in the 95th minute to record his first career goal at SeatGeek Stadium with the Fire. The Fire are unbeaten in two matches played at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium (1-0-1) since its opening in 2017, claiming a 2-1 win in their last visit on May 26 of last season.