|Matchup||Chicago Fire (16-10-7, 55 pts.) at Houston Dynamo (12-10-11, 47 pts.)|
|Date||Sunday, Oct. 22 • 3 p.m. CT|
|Location||Houston, Texas • BBVA Compass Stadium|
|TV||NBC Sports Chicago (Pregame: 2:30 p.m. CT)|
|Spanish Radio||Univision América 1200 (WRTO)|
#DecisionDay 2017 presented by AT&T has at long last arrived. The regular season's final matchday sees the Chicago Fire head south on Sunday to take on the Houston Dynamo (3 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago), who locked up their spot in the 2017 postseason last weekend in Kansas City. The stakes are high for both clubs entering the weekend, as each can still climb the standings and improve their playoff seeding with a win and a few breaks from other results around both conferences. With a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye on the line, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind:
Key number: 3
As far as #DecisionDay numbers go, none is more important than 3, the (central) time in which every MLS match around the league kicks off simultaneously. Fire fans will be keeping a close eye on two of those in particular -- Crew SC at NYCFC and Toronto FC at Atlanta United -- which, combined with the Fire's result in Houston, will sort out positions 2-5 in the Eastern Conference. Sunday's finishes will dictate who among NYCFC, Chicago, Atlanta and Columbus will end up with a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, who will host in the knockout round as the third and fourth seed, and who begin their playoff campaign on the road as seed No. 5. Get your popcorn ready.
For a full breakdown on how each of Sunday's results can affect the Fire's postseason seeding, click here.
Matchup to watch: Nemanja Nikolic vs. Tyler Deric
While finishing with the highest possible seed is the priority, the next flashiest matchup falls to Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, who will look to wrap up the MLS Golden Boot on the season's final day. His 24 finishes this season are currently three above Portland's Diego Valeri in second place with 21. Nikolic enters the match riding a wave of accolades following a hat trick in last weekend's 3-2 win over Philadelphia that earned him MLS Team of the Week, MLS Player of the Week, and MLS Goal of the Week honors. He'll look to beat Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric, who made nine saves in preserving a clean sheet in Houston's 0-0 draw at Sporting Kansas City last weekend, and who owns a save percentage of 64.79 on shots in the box this season, the third-best total league wide among 'keepers with at least 10 matches played.
One Big Question: Which 2017 turnaround comes out on top?
What a difference a year makes. As the 2016 regular season came to a close last October, both the Fire and the Dynamo finished at the bottom of their respective conferences. Fast forward to Sunday, and they both now have a claim to a top-3 regular season finish with a win and some help from around the league. For the Dynamo, an injection of youth and pace as well as a resurgent season from forward Erick "Cubo" Torres has been the story for head coach Wilmer Cabrera's side this season. Sunday marks a fitting final matchup for both of these 2017 turnarounds, each with postseason quests now on the horizon.
Sizing Up The Series
Ironically, the Fire stand on the precipice of a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs facing the same club it face in its last postseason appearance, when the Dynamo came to Toyota Park on Halloween 2012 and earned a 2-1 knockout round win. Sunday's #DecisionDay clash will likely have a playoff-feel to it, as the Fire look to improve on their 6-8-8 all-time regular season record against the Dynamo, including a 2-5-4 record in road matches. The Fire last visited Houston on July 3, 2015, a match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Sunday’s match will mark a homecoming for midfielder Arturo Alvarez. The Houston native represented St. Thomas High School, Mayde Creek High School, Bear Creek United and Texas Premier Futbol Club before signing a Project-40 contract with MLS in 2003.
Quote of the Week:
As previously noted, Sunday will be a homecoming for Arturo Alvarez. The above clip is just a fraction of his full thoughts on his side's Decision Day trip to his hometown, in which he offers up his take on the team's preparation, each side's 2017 turnaround, and more. Watch the full interview (plus more on #HOUvCHI) right here.