The beginning of the season was not very good for the Chicago Fire, just ask general manager Nelson Rodriguez.
However, a win against Portland on Saturday would put the Fire, currently last in Major League Soccer with 10 points, back within range of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. That’s how quickly things can turn around in Major League Soccer, especially in the weaker of the two conferences.
The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on CSN and coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. There will also be a Spanish language simulcast on CSN+.
The Fire (2-5-4, 10 points) are coming off a 1-0 win against Houston. The last time the Fire had back-to-back wins was April of last year.
Portland (4-6-3, 15 points) is the defending MLS Cup champs, but the Timbers have not looked like it so far this season. Portland is the only team in the league without a shutout and is tied for the most goals allowed in the league.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic mentioned the preseason meeting between the two teams as something to use as a reference. The Fire won 2-0 in Portland on Feb. 27, but a preseason win didn’t do the Fire any good against Vancouver, which beat the Fire on May 11.
“We had a great performance in Portland,” Paunovic said. “We learned a lot about them in that game.
“They play as a team. They are very good in transition. They are very good on set pieces, too. A lot of important, individually very good players.”
Fanendo Adi is certainly one of those very good players. The Nigerian is tied for the league lead with eight goals. Diego Valeri and Jack McInerney also have four goals each, with McInerney mostly coming off the bench.
When asked if the Fire and Timbers have similar styles, Paunovic detailed a few of the tactical differences.
“They play very narrow at times, but we are looking for something different,” Paunovic said. “When we have Gilberto, Kennedy (Igboananike), (David) Accam switch positions to create superiority on a different part of the field and especially being in the final third it can give us a lot of advantage. We have very fast, very offensive guys up in front and I believe that can help.”
This will be the first time since the season opener that Accam will be available to play at home. He came back from injury with two appearances on the road and was suspended for the win against Houston. Paunovic could have all three aforementioned forwards play together for the first time since the season opener.
As for who won’t be available, John Goossens and Michael Harrington are out while Collin Fernandez is listed as questionable while still nursing an ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, Portland is short two players who are prepping for the Copa America before MLS goes on break after the weekend. Key playmaker Darlington Nagbe is with the U.S. while defender Jermaine Taylor is away with Jamaica.
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)
TV: CSN; simulcast in Spanish on CSN+
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.