The most important match for the Fire last season came against the Seattle Sounders, and the result wasnt what the Fire wanted.
The two clubs met in Seattle on Oct. 4 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, the Sounders winning 2-0. They scored the game-winner, by Fredy Montero in the 77th minute, and Osvaldo Alonso had an insurance goal in stoppage time as the Sounders won their third straight Open Cup and deprived the Fire of winning its fifth overall.
"When you play for a championship, to lift a trophy, its a little different than league play," said Fire captain Logan Pause. "(Seattles) a difficult play to play, going into CenturyLink Stadium, plus they were a very good team and on that day they were better. They deserved to win, but thats behind us."
But itll be a hard result for either side to forget, since 20 of the 27 players participating in the Open Cup final are still on the rosters of their respective teams as the clubs prepare for their first meeting of 2012 on Saturday night at Toyota Park.
Not all Major League Soccer clubs take the summer-long Open Cup tournament as seriously as the Fire and Sounders do.
"We put a lot into it," said Fire coach Frank Klopas, "but we were playing a good team. Its a different season now, and well be playing at home."
So far, it hasnt mattered where the Fire plays the Sounders. The Fire has yet to win, standing 0-3-3 in MLS meetings since Seattle entered the league in 2009. In those six matches the Fire scored just three goals. Both clubs come into Saturdays meeting with some momentum. Seattle is off to a 3-1-1 start, while the Fire is 2-1-1.
"Most of their team is returning, and they still play the same style very disciplined, very hard-working. Itll be a great test for us," said Pause.
The most-marked man for the Fire will have to be forward David Estrada, who has scored four of the Sounders six goals.
"Theyve got guys who understand their roles," said Pause. "What really jumps out is their midfield. Its one of the strongest in the league with Alonso, (Brad) Evans, (Leo) Gonzalez and (Alvaro) Fernandez. These guys are incredibly dynamic, incredibly mobile, and they work their tails off."
Most notable absentee is goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who retired from the Sounders after a brilliant career following last season. Hes now a TV commentator for the Sounders and his replacement, Michael Gspurning, is working on a 248-minute shutout streak. Gspurning played in Greece the last five seasons.
Seattle also has an MLS-best six-game regular season road unbeaten streak (5-0-1), dating back to last season.
The Fire is still unlikely to get newly re-acquired striker Chris Rolfe on the field. He sprained his right ankle in training shortly after leaving Denmark to join the Fire and he spent most of last week in a walking cast. Hes listed as questionable for the Seattle match.
"Theres not much swelling, but he still has pain when he walks," said Klopas. "Every day hes getting better, but hes not to the point where he can run yet."