Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

After an undefeated three-game homestand, the Chicago Fire now head on the road for three straight.

The first of the three road games is at Toronto FC, the defending Eastern Conference champions, on Friday. Coverage is on CSN Plus 2 starting at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Check out CSN's channel finder for where CSN Plus 2 is available for you. The match will air on Cozi TV. The Fire released further broadcast information for the match, including re-airs on CSN+ (11 p.m. Friday) and CSN (1 p.m. Saturday).

Toronto (1-1-4, 7 points) is out of the playoff positions for now, but has had just two matches at home. Both of those matches have been draws. The Fire (3-1-2, 11 points) 0-1-1 on the road so far this season.

The two teams met in the final preseason match in Florida. The Fire won 4-1. That result shouldn't have any bearing on Friday's match, but does provide some familiarity for some of the Fire's new players.

"This is for me, one of the best teams in MLS, for sure," Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We played against them in Florida. OK, this was the friendly game, but in that game we played really good and we can show some things. They have a lot of good players, a lot of individual players who can finish the game alone so we need to watch out on these things and to be prepared."

The trio of forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore and midfielder Michael Bradley lead the way for TFC. Altidore has gotten off to a hot start with three goals and two assists while Giovinco has scored one goal.

Both Giovinco and Altidore will provide a tough test for a Fire defense that has recorded back-to-back shutouts.

"Just don't let him breathe, put pressure on him," defender Michael Harrington said. "These guys are good players, but they're very good players when you don't have pressure on them and you don't take care of them. Also when we have the ball we got to make sure that we're aware of where they are on the field so when the ball turns over, they don't get the ball in dangerous spots. These guys are good players, but it's nothing we can't handle and it's something we prepared for."

Last season Toronto swept the season series with three one-goal victories against the Fire. Giovinco had a goal and two assists in those games while Altidore had a goal and an assist.

"We will do everything to stop him," coach Veljko Paunovic said of Giovinco. "Great player, obviously with Giovinco in attack, a very difficult attack for all the teams around the league. We played against difficult teams in the past. Just last week against (Juan) Agudelo and (Kei) Kamara was also good attack, and Lee Nguyen also, so we are used to it. We have to know that there aren't easy games in this league. There are not easy attackers and we have to do everything to stop them. We will find a way."

A win would be a statement that the Fire are in the upper echelon of the conference, but even a draw would be a positive result. Despite a relatively slow start, Toronto is still one of the most talented teams in the league and has lost just once so far.

Midfielder Matt Polster's season debut for the Fire has continued to be pushed back. Polster has returned to training, but was still limited this week. After coming off a knee injury, Polster is listed as questionable with "right hip flexor tightness." Daniel Johnson, who has come off the bench each of the last three games, is also listed as questionable with a left adductor strain.

Toronto's injury report is lengthier. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin is out for the third straight game. Alex Bono has started in his place. Starting centerback Drew Moor is also out.

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

Where: BMO Field, Toronto

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

TV: CSN Plus 2/Cozi TV (channel finder)

Records: Fire (3-1-2, 11 points), TFC (1-1-4, 7 points)

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

It's not often that teams win games in MLS by four goals, especially when a red card wasn't involved.

After the Chicago Fire couldn't score one goal against Orlando when the Lions went down to nine men for more than a quarter of the match earlier this month, the Fire put up a four spot against Orlando at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire were dominant in every aspect of the game.

David Accam had one of his best games for the Fire and the team had arguably its best performance of the season.

It takes two for a blowout in MLS

There have been 10 games in MLS this season decided by four goals or more. Out of that group, two of those involved red cards (including the Fire's 4-0 loss at Atlanta in March) and two of those were Minnesota's first two games as an MLS team when it was thought they could be the worst team in league history. Blowouts happen in MLS, but the relatively balanced play in the league means both the winning team had to be very good and the losing team had to be very bad.

The Fire may have had its best performance of the season. Nemanja Nikolic said the team was near perfect after the match (in the video above).

Meanwhile, Orlando was without its leading scorer (Cyle Larin) and was coming off a game Wednesday halfway across the country in Seattle. Those factors, plus an overall lethargic showing from Orlando (coach Jason Kreis said his team "didn't have enough energy" at the start of the match) made the Lions susceptible to the beatdown they received.

The expected goals didn't lie

Soccer analytics are still nascent, but expected goals is one of the stats getting more attention. Expected goals (click here for the longer, better explanation) track the position of all shots taken in a match and quantify the likelihood of that shot going in. Shots from close are more likely to score so they are worth more expected goals. Each shot's percentage of scoring is added to produce the team's expected goals total.

Often in blowouts, the winning team's expected goals total is lower than the actual goal total because in order to score a large number of goals it probably took a couple low-percentage shots scoring. Teams don't typically create several high-percentage scoring chances in a match. It takes a screamer from distance or a goalkeeper flub to get a high goal total, and the expected goal total won't go up with that as a result.

However, the Fire's expected goal total from Saturday was actually above four. Including the penalty kick, the Fire's expected goal total finished at 4.26, one of the highest totals in the league this year. Meanwhile, Orlando had a miniscule .16 from three long-distance shots.

The Fire scored two goals early and kept creating chances. Nikolic was denied on a close-range volley in the first half and missed an open shot in the second half or else he could have scored more than the one goal.

Without going deeper into the stats, the takeaway is that this game was a blowout, was always going to be a blowout and didn't require particularly efficient finishing from the Fire to be a blowout.

Accam: "I thought I could do anything on the pitch"

Accam's hat trick got the headlines, but he also had an assist on Nikolic's goal. On the assist he showed something he hasn't done often. Look where Accam received the ball on that play:

This is Accam as a playmaking attacking midfielder for one play. He received the ball just past midfield off a turnover, but it wasn’t a classic counter. Orlando had five players behind the ball and he had two Fire players, Nikolic and Luis Solignac, in front of him. He turned, put a move on Antonio Nocerino to give himself the space to set up Nikolic, made the pass and Nikolic finished with his first touch.

Accam's first goal was about positioning. He found a way to get open in the six-yard box, and the backheel was just the exclamation mark to finish the play. His second goal was classic Accam getting behind a defense and being almost too patient to shoot before scoring into an open net.

He showed a little bit of everything Saturday.

Michael de Leeuw tracking Kaka

Just watch Michael de Leeuw, a natural forward, recognize Kaka running into open space and then cut him off and intercept a pass intended for the Brazilian.

Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster for Gold Cup

Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster for Gold Cup

After the Chicago Fire's 4-0 win against Orlando on Saturday, midfielder Dax McCarty said his goodbyes to his teammates and got an extra handshake and a good luck message from coach Veljko Paunovic.

That's because McCarty was preparing to leave the Fire to join the U.S. national team for the upcoming Gold Cup, CONCACAF's regional tournament. McCarty was named to the 23-man roster that will take place in the tournament, which runs from July 7-26.

The U.S. will play against Ghana on July 1 in a tune-up. Fire winger David Accam will be a part of that Ghana team and is also away from the Fire. McCarty and Accam will both miss the U.S. Open Cup game in Cincinnati on Wednesday and the MLS game against Vancouver the same day as that friendly.

MLS is taking a break during Gold Cup group play, but will resume as the knockout round begins. If the U.S. gets to the semifinals, McCarty would miss three MLS games (July 1 vs. Vancouver, July 5 at Portland and July 22 vs. New York City FC). He would also miss a potential Open Cup quarterfinal if the Fire beat FC Cincinnati.

McCarty has been called in regularly under coach Bruce Arena, but has only played in friendlies. With the Gold Cup drawing mostly from MLS players, with European-based players getting a break during the club offseason, McCarty could see more playing time.

Fire right back Matt Polster was also included on the preliminary roster, but was not on the final 23-man roster. Former Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was also on the team.

Here is the full roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)

DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, England), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Dax McCarty (FIRE), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent, Belgium), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)