Fire put unbeaten home mark on line vs. Orlando City SC
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The surprising Chicago Fire are on the verge of going from worst to first.
A victory over visiting Orlando City SC on Saturday would keep the Fire (9-3-4, 31 points) in the thick of a battle with current leader Toronto FC for the top spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.
It’s a far cry from 2016, when the Fire finished last in the East and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
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This year, the Fire are unbeaten (7-0-1) at Toyota Park and haven’t lost in 11 straight home games dating back to 2016.
Amid that success, however, the Fire have had trouble beating Orlando (7-5-5, 26 points).
Chicago has no MLS wins over the Florida team since it joined the league as an expansion club in 2015 and just one victory coming in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup.
Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic collected his MLS-leading 13th goal of the season in last Saturday’s 2-1 victory at New England to extend Chicago’s unbeaten road streak to three games, the longest since 2014.
While Nikolic gets much of the attention, teammates like fellow forward Michael de Leeuw also get high marks for versatility and multiple contributions.
“Sometimes, it feels like Michael’s playing five different positions on the field because of how much running he does and how much ground he covers, and that’s something that you can’t teach,” Dax McCarty told the Fire’s website this week. “He’s been very important for us. He’s a guy that as a teammate you just want to have him on the field. You’re not only going to get work rate, but you’re going to get quality as well.”
Orlando, meanwhile, has struggled on the road with 1-4-2 mark so far in league play.
It will also be without striker Cyle Larin, who remains suspended following a recent arrest for driving while intoxicated.
One positive development was Orlando’s 1-1 tie at Seattle on Wednesday.
“For me, it’s not just about the result, it’s also about the performance,” coach Jason Kreis. “I think our group now has played pretty darn well a few games in a row in MLS regular season games. So now, to continue to pick up points, it always helps.
“As a coach you can get very fatigued at times saying you’re really happy with how they’re playing when they don’t pick up points and results. So, now there’s some weight behind that message.”