The Chicago Fire open their 2019 home slate at last on Saturday afternoon when Eastern Conference counterparts Orlando City SC visit the Windy City to help christen newly-named SeatGeek Stadium.
Saturday's match marks the first of three-straight home contests in March for the Fire. Ahead of the 12 p.m. CT kickoff (ESPN+ | TICKETS), get up to speed on the key facts and faces set to shape the outcome with Match Storylines pres. by NovaCare:
Orlando City SC enter the match with a point to their name following last weekend’s home contest against NYCFC, and currently sit in fifth place in the early Eastern Conference standings as a result. The Lions battled back from a 2-0 halftime deficit with goals from Chris Mueller and Tesho Akindele over the final 45 minutes to come away with a dramatic 2-2 draw on opening day.
New Players in Purple
Eight players made their Orlando City debuts in last weekend’s season opener, none higher profile Portuguese international midfielder Nani. The 32-year former Manchester United star entered the match in the 70th minute for Sebastián Méndez (also an Orlando debutante), after arriving on Feb. 18 from Portuguese club Sporting CP. He picked up a debut assist to Akindele on Orlando’s equalizing goal
Alongside Nani and Méndez, Danilo Acosta, Kyle Smith, Kamal Miller, Alex De John, Brian Rowe, and Akindele all made their competitive debuts for Orlando against NYCFC.
The Fire featured five newcomers of their own in last weekend’s season-opening 2-1 defeat in LA to the Galaxy. Forward CJ Sapong got the Fire’s first goal of the new season in the 49th minute, while goalkeeper David Ousted had a strong first showing with the Club alongside fellow 2019 additions Przemysław Frankowski, Marcelo (a former teammate of Nani's at Sporting CP), and Cristian Martinez.
More Niko, More Party
Fire forward Nemanja Nikolić could make his first appearance of 2019 on Saturday after being held out of last weekend's match in Los Angeles. Nikolić was a later arrival to the West Coast after remaining in Chicago for the birth of his third child. While the 2017 MLS Golden Boot-winner was a part of head coach Veljko Paunovic's 18-man roster, it was just his fourth regular season match missed (of a possible 69) since his arrival in 2017.
The Chicago-Orlando matchup was a one-sided affair in 2018, with the Fire taking a full six points from two memorable meetings last season. Alan Gordon powered the Men In Red to A 2-1 victory on the road with a late blast last May, before the Fire throttled their Eastern Conference counterparts 4-0 at home in September on the strength of a Nikolić brace.
Saturday's contest will mark the 10th meeting between both clubs since Orlando City joined the league as an expansion side in 2015. The Fire lead the regular season head-to-head series with a 3-2-4 record, including three straight victories since June 24, 2017. The Fire also lead the regular season series in goals scored (16-9) during that stretch.