After a two-game Eastern Conference road trip, the Chicago Fire return to Toyota Park Saturday for their final cross-conference match of 2018 and their first-ever clash with MLS newcomer Los Angeles FC. The game is set for 2:30 PM Saturday and will be carried live to a national audience by Univision and on Twitter.
As both sides head into the homestretch of the 2018 MLS regular season, take a look below at some of the names, faces and storylines likely to headline the conversation on Saturday:
While Saturday marks the inaugural on-field meeting for the Fire and LAFC, there’s no shortage of historical ties between the two clubs, and it starts at the top for the 2018 expansion side. Bob Bradley, the Fire’s inaugural and all-time winningest head coach, has taken up LAFC as his latest ground-up project, hoping to replicate the sort of success that inspired his 1998 domestic double-winning expansion club in Chicago. His group stands third in the West with a record of 14-7-8 and has collected six road wins this year, tied for the second-most in MLS.
The U.S. coaching great is surrounded by several former Fire standouts in L.A., including: John Thorrington, a member of the Fire from 2005-10 and the current EVP and GM of Soccer Operations at LAFC; assistant coach Ante Razov, Chicago’s all-time leading goal-scorer and like Bradley a member of the club's Ring of Fire; and Mike Sorber, who in 2000 raised a U.S. Open Cup and helped the Fire to the MLS Cup final as a player for Bradley, now serving as the club’s Director of Soccer Operations.
More on the Black-and-Gold
As for the squad on the field, LAFC is headlined by the likes of Carlos Vela, a standout for the Mexican National Team at this summer’s FIFA World Cup, as well as 19-year-old Uruguayan attacker Diego Rossi and MLS veterans such as Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen. Add in targetmen Marco Ureña and Adama Diomande, and Bradley has the ingredients for an attack that ranks second in MLS in total goals (57) and goals per game (1.97) and third in shots on goal (176).
Fire fans might also recognize Bradley’s first-choice goalkeeper, 26-year-old Tyler Miller. The Chicago Fire PDL and Northwestern University product has found a home in net for LAFC following two seasons as a backup for Seattle Sounders FC. Miller is currently tied for third among MLS goalkeepers with nine shutouts to his credit this season.
On the Ball
Both Veljko Paunovic and Bob Bradley have employed a number of tactical setups and playing styles within their sides in 2018, although Pauno has begun to settle on a more regular starting side in recent weeks. LAFC have enjoyed 51% of possession overall this season, a factor in their standing as the team with the second-most fouls suffered (386) in MLS this season. The possession battles and transition game in the middle of the park among the likes of Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Brandt Bronico for the Fire and the aforementioned Nguyen and Feilhaber for LAFC will no doubt be an area to keep an eye on.
After a run of three games unbeaten, the Fire saw their pursuit of a place in the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs come to an end with Wednesday’s road defeat at New York City FC. All four games remaining on the Fire’s 2018 schedule pose a challenge -- with two against postseason-bound squads in LAFC and Atlanta United and two against hard-charging D.C. United -- as well as a sizable opportunity for players to begin shaping their individual and collective futures with the club. Look for leaders within the squad to make the most of their remaining fixtures this fall, starting on their home turf Saturday vs. LAFC.