The Chicago Fire return to the West Coast this weekend for a Saturday afternoon kickoff against the San Jose Earthquakes. Saturday's matchup will be televised nationally on Univision and streamed live on Twitter at 2:30 p.m CT.
After a successful six-point home stand last week, the Fire look to ride their current wave of momentum into a third-straight win and a fourth-straight clean sheet. Get set for Saturday with the #SJvCHI Match Storylines powered by NovaCare:
San Jose (3-6-2, 11 points) had a four-match unbeaten run snapped last Saturday, when a visit to the New England Revolution resulted in a 3-1 defeat, its first loss since April 21. After beginning their 2019 campaign with a four-match losing streak under new head coach Matías Almeyda, the Earthquakes have gone 3-2-2 in the seven matches since and climbed into 10th position in the Western Conference through 11 matches played.
The Fire (4-4-4, 16 points) hit the road after picking up a pair of home wins last week. Head coach Veljko Paunović and his men carried the momentum from a 5-0 midweek win over the New England Revolution into a 2-0 victory against Minnesota United FC last Saturday. The Fire are currently level with Columbus Crew SC in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 16 points picked up to date.
Defense on Display
Entering the weekend trip west, the Fire are riding a three-match clean sheet streak that began on their last trip to California in a 0-0 draw at LAFC on May 4. After making his Fire debut as a second-half sub in that match and starting in central defense against New England and Minnesota, Costa Rican international Francisco Calvo has yet to see a goal conceded since his acquisition from Minnesota on May 3.
Another factor in the Fire’s defensive rigidity has been the steadying presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Since moving from midfield to the backline ahead of the Fire’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on March 30, the Fire have allowed just 0.67 goals per game -- the third-lowest amount in the league behind only LAFC (0.38) and Atlanta United (0.57). Paired with Johan Kappelhof’s versatility displayed in a shift to right back, the Fire can count themselves among the league’s best defensive units.
Next Man Up
The Fire will be forced to keep their defensive momentum going without Schweinsteiger this weekend after the German World Cup-winner picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last Saturday and will serve a one-match suspension when the team travels to San Jose. Paunović’s roster currently boasts a number of players with experience in different positions along the backline who will look to keep the San Jose attack at bay.
“We’ve got more options,” Kappelhof said. “Basti is out now, but we’ve got quality to replace (him). That’s a good strength we have this year. Even with injuries and suspensions, we can solve that. It’s on the coach (to determine) what he’s going to do, but - whoever is on the field - we are all able to play and we all have quality.”
The Men In Red will also be without the services of reigning MLS Player of the Week Nicolás Gaitán, who is out with a right leg injury. Gaitán earned the weekly honors after scoring two goals and picking up two assists in the Fire’s pair of home victories last week, despite being forced to exit Saturday’s match against Minnesota in the 33rd minute.
A Big Night in the Bay
The Fire last visited San Jose’s Avaya Stadium on Sept. 28, 2017 looking to formally clinch a berth in the postseason for the first time since 2012. After achieving that feat in what became a 4-1 win, a full list of accompanying milestones made for a particularly memorable night on the West Coast:
- Nemanja Nikolić broke Ante Razov’s single-season scoring record with his 19th and 20th goals of the campaign en route to wrapping up the 2017 MLS Golden Boot Award.
- Djordje Mihailović, then a rookie making the fourth start of his career – scored his first professional goal in the 14th minute.
- Dax McCarty started and became the 37th player in MLS history to make 300 appearances.
- Goalkeeper Richard Sanchez earned his first MLS start.
Saturday’s contest against the Earthquakes will mark the 38th all-time meeting between the two sides. Heading into the match, the Fire lead the head-to-head regular season series 16-10-11. These two sides last met on June 2, 2018, when goals from Alan Gordon and Aleksandar Katai helped lead the Fire to a 2-1 win at SeatGeek Stadium.