Fire hope to stay on upward trajectory vs. NYCFC

The Chicago Fire will try to stretch their unbeaten streak to five games when they host New York City FC on Saturday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

Chicago (5-7-5) has 20 points in 17 games and sits just outside the top six playoff spots in the Eastern Conference as the season’s second half commences. The Fire are coming off three straight draws against the Seattle Sounders, Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution, as well as a win earlier this month over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic senses positive momentum building during the team’s unbeaten streak.

“I think the pieces are fitting together better and I think the guys now know better each other,” Paunovic said to his team’s official website. “I’m talking about the new players, who had opportunity to play, who actually needed time to get on the same page with the old guys. It’s getting to the point where we are understanding much better each other, and now the team actually plays more as a team.”

A new energy also is developing for New York City FC (9-3-4), which will mark its second game under new coach Domenec Torrent. The club’s previous coach, Patrick Vieira, headed to France to accept the top job with Nice.

Torrent watched as his players posted a 2-1 win over Toronto FC on Sunday evening. New York City FC is unbeaten in its past three games and has lost only one of its past six.

Jo Inge Berget scored both goals for New York City FC in its most recent win. The 27-year-old forward from Norway has three goals in 13 games this season.

“We have to play a little quicker,” Torrent said to his team’s official website. “Sometimes in the first (half), we passed the ball and nothing happened. Everybody knows we have a player like Jo, he’s able to play like a striker, sometimes we play quick, long ball, set the ball and attack and attack quickly. It’s the best way.”

New York City FC could be without forward David Villa, who has a right knee injury. Injured defensemen Cedric Houtondji (hamstring) and Ronald Matarrita (hamstring) also could miss the game.

The Fire will remain without several injured players, including defenseman Matt Polster, forward Michael de Leeuw and midfielder Djordje Mihailovic. All three players are recovering from knee surgeries.

Chicago is led in scoring by midfielder Aleksandar Katai and forward Nemanja Nikolic, who have six goals apiece. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger leads the team with five assists.

Meanwhile, Villa leads New York FC with eight goals, three of which have been game-winners. Forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is next on the club with seven goals, and midfielder Maximiliano Moralez has six goals and a team-leading seven assists.

New York City FC has a 3-1-3 edge in the all-time series. The teams played to a 1-all tie in their last meeting on Sept. 30.

Chicago is 3-4-2 at home. New York City FC is 2-3-3 on the road.