When the Chicago Fire take on Toronto FC Saturday night (LIVE on NBC 5.2 at 7pm CT), it won’t be the same side they faced back in April.
In that match played on an overcast day on the bank of Lake Ontario, the Fire went ahead 25 seconds into the match, conceded two goals but found two more take a rocky 3-2 victory back across the border.
The result handed TFC their sixth straight loss in a skid that would reach nine defeats (an MLS record to start a season) and eventually lead to the sacking of manager Aron Winter.
Former New England Revolution assistant coach Paul Mariner stepped down from the TFC front office to take the head coaching reins on an interim basis and since has guided the team to a much improved 4-3-4 record.
PREVIEW: Fire vs. Toronto FC
Toronto’s midseason turnaround is little surprise to former Reds defender Dan Gargan.
“My experience being around Paul [Mariner] is that he is a jovial guy,” said the Fire defender. “He’s obviously very competitive. He gives the players more freedom to express themselves and have fun. It’s nearly the same roster that they had before but sometimes that change is necessary. A breath of fresh air can help.”
Aside from the change in coaching duties, the biggest difference for TFC from April’s match will be the absence of team leading scorer, striker Danny Koevermans. The Dutchman suffered a season ending ACL tear in Toronto’s 1-0 win at New England on July 14.
Toronto quickly went out in search of a lead striker to replace Koevermans, bringing injured striker Eric Hassli from Vancouver shortly after. Ironically Hassli picked up his knock the same day as Koevermans during his substitute appearance in a 1-0 Whitecaps loss to the Fire at Toyota Park.
The Frenchman hasn’t appeared yet for the Reds but was an unused substitute in TFC’s 5-1 drubbing of Salvadoran side Aguila in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night. Chances are he could make his Reds debut back at Toyota Park on Saturday.
“I regard Eric Hassli as one of the top target men in this league,” said Gargan. “Realistically, I think they have quite a few players that are attacking weapons. [Former Fire forward] Ryan Johnson is an absolute handful. They have a couple guys on the wings with pace and technical ability.”
Saturday’s match comes just a year after Gargan joined the Fire via trade from Toronto. Asked how the last 12 months in Chicago have been, the veteran defender said, “Every day I’ve been happy to be here. Chicago is a great city and this is a club with a lot of tradition that I’m proud to be a part of."
Segares Set for Return
The right-footed Gargan did well to replace injured teammate Gonzalo Segares on the left during the team’s 1-1 draw at San Jose last Saturday. The Costa Rican international sat out the match after picking up a knock to his ankle but returned to training this week.
“The ankle feels better,” said Segares. I just keep getting treatment and taking it day-by-day. I expect to be back on Saturday.”
Oduro Looking to End Goal Drought
The Fire’s joint leading scorer Dominic Oduro has had some recent goal scoring success against TFC. The speedy Ghanaian has hit the back of the net in each of the last two matches vs. the Reds, including the fastest goal in club history, 25 seconds into April’s 3-2 win.
With that in mind, Oduro will hope to extend his scoring streak against TFC to three matches and put to end his current six match goal drought.
“I’ve scored a couple of goals against them recently,” he said. “I’m just trying to get out there and help my team win. It’s been a while since I’ve put a ball in the net. It’s been hard with the couple of games that we’ve played. You have to keep your head up and if you get a chance, put the ball in the net.
“I believe we’ll get three points this coming weekend. It doesn’t matter what formation or strategy they’ve changed. This is our house and we’re going to protect it.”