All-time record: Fire lead series 5-1-4
9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN 2, ESPN Deportes
What’s at stake?
The fourth-place Fire need to make up points to get into playoff position. They would love if that journey began Thursday night against Real Salt Lake, who, with 27 points, are in a tie for second place in the entire league. RSL comes into the match riding an enormous nine-game league unbeaten streak. They’ll be looking to continue that run against the Fire, who they defeated in the Eastern Conference Final last season.
After 120 minutes of scoreless action, Real Salt Lake defeated the Fire 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout to win November 14th Eastern Conference Final. The win propelled RSL to the MLS Cup Final, where they defeated Landon Donovan,David Beckham and the favored L.A. Galaxy and win the franchise’s first championship. The loss catapulted the Fire into a busy offseason in which then-head coach Denis Hamlett's contract was not renewed and several key players left.
Heroes & Villains
Javier Morales vs. Logan Pause: Morales, often characterized as one of the more underrated players in MLS, is the engine that makes RSL go. The central midfielder is very accurate and smart with his passes, is great on set plays and is capable of striking from distance. Fire midfielder Logan Pause will be tasked with stopping the Argentine playmaker, and he’ll undoubtedly have his hands full. He’ll need to do a good job if the Fire are to come out of the match with a result.
Alvaro Saborio vs. Wilman Conde: Saborio, who has won MLS Player of the Week honors twice this season, is setting the league alight. Salt Lake’s Costa Rican forward has seven goals and four assists on the year, including two in Salt Lake’s 5-0 romp over New England last Friday. Fire center back Wilman Conde will be charged with stopping the big striker, and he – like Pause – will have to do a good job if the Fire are to win the match.
Stat that makes you go, “Hmm ...”
Real Salt Lake has never won a regular season match at Toyota Park, going 0-3-2 in five meetings there.
He said it
“I’ve got to be mentally tuned in enough to make sure our communication is right. I've got to make sure I’m doing what I need to do position wise and keep track of players. It’s just going to be mentally tuning into to those guys to make sure we have our marks, make sure the wall is set and make sure we have those little things right that are going to carry us.” — Fire 'keeper Andrew Dykstra on how he’ll deal with RSL’s dangerous set plays