Toronto FC out to end drought against Fire
Two teams on the outside of the MLS playoff picture will square off when Toronto FC visits the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago (6-10-5) has 23 points, which is four points behind the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are coming off a 4-0 win over Louisville City FC in U.S. Open Cup action, but they have dropped three straight in MLS play.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said his team could not afford to relax against Toronto FC.
"(They are) the reigning champion," Paunovic said. "One of the best teams. Don't forget that this team, last year, showed amazing performance in all the competitions they played. (They have) fantastic players. They're recovering some injured players, also, so it's not going to be easy at all.
"We will focus, we will prepare. The combat starts from now."
Meanwhile, Toronto FC (4-11-4) has experienced a dramatic downturn since defeating the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup last December. The club is winless in its last six league matches, posting an 0-4-2 record during that span. All four of those losses have come by a one-goal margin.
A 1-0 win over the Ottawa Fury this week in the race for the Canadian Championship put the team in good spirits.
"The two things we wanted were a shutout and a win," Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney told the team's official website. "We got both of those, so we're going home feeling good, but understand there is still more to do.
"To be solid defensively was an important aspect. This is not an easy place to play. They keep their lines tight, they're a very organized team, they don't give away a lot of space. To keep things tight on the defensive side is what we need. We've given away far too many goals in MLS, far too many."
Chicago is led in scoring by Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai, who have nine goals apiece. Alan Gordon (four) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (three) round out the team's top four scorers.
Schweinsteiger paces Chicago with six assists this season, and Kevin Ellis and Brandt Bronico have four apiece. The 33-year-old Schweinsteiger has six goals and 12 assists in 42 games since coming over from Europe.
Toronto FC has been plagued with injuries, but Jonathan Osorio has endured to lead the team with six goals through his first 17 games. Victor Vazquez (five) and Sebastian Giovinco (four) also rank near the top of the list.
Giovinco is first on the team with nine assists in 16 games. Vazquez has six assists and Nicolas Hasler has three.
Chicago is 4-5-2 at home. Toronto FC is 1-7-2 on the road.
Toronto FC players emphasized that they still could rewrite the narrative on a disappointing season.
"The mentality was good (against Ottawa)," goalkeeper Clint Irwin said to the team's official website. "We can take the discipline and concentration from this game and apply that on Saturday."
"A small step, but (one) forward nonetheless," he said. "We have to use it; turn our focus to Saturday against Chicago."
Updated July 20, 2018