The Chicago Fire return to SeatGeek Stadium Saturday night for their first MLS meeting with 2019 expansion side FC Cincinnati. While the two sides have met previously in preseason and cup competitions, Saturday will mark FC Cincinnati's first-ever visit to Chicago dating back to their founding as a USL side in 2016.
Take a look at this week's Match Storylines presented by NovaCare below:
FC Cincinnati (4-13-2, 14 points) heads west to Chicago on the heels of a 3-2 home victory over the Houston Dynamo last Saturday, a win that snapped a six-game losing streak. It’s been a tough start to the club’s inaugural campaign in MLS, as Cincinnati currently sits on the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with 14 points through 19 matches played, and a league low -26 goal differential.
The Fire (5-8-7, 22 points) return home from a 1-0 defeat on the road to Sporting Kansas City last weekend looking to extend their current home unbeaten streak to nine matches with a win or draw. The run of home form dates back to the Club’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on March 30. In their last home match, head coach Veljko Paunović’s side dealt reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United FC a 5-1 defeat at SeatGeek Stadium on July 3.
Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailović will be available for selection ahead of Saturday’s match after returning from a 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup run with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Mihailović appeared twice for the U.S. in his first major tournament with the senior side, helping them through an undefeated finish in group play. The U.S. were defeated by Mexico 1-0 in the tournament final at Chicago’s Soldier Field last Sunday.
The 20-year-old last appeared for the Fire on June 1, a 2-0 defeat on the road at Atlanta United.
Fire defender Francisco Calvo, who took part in the Gold Cup with Costa Rica, will take on two of his national team teammates in Cincinnati defender Kendall Waston and midfielder Allan Cruz.
Big players, big plays
The Fire’s 5-1 demolition of Atlanta United on July 3 turned heads around the league, earning recognition for a pair of standout performers. Forward CJ Sapong scored his team-leading seventh and eighth goals of the season, while midfielder Nicolás Gaitán matched a single-game Club record with three assists and added a goal of his own. Both were named to the latest MLS Team of the Week bench for their efforts.
The Fire will be without the services of Bastian Schweinsteiger on Saturday night, as the German legend will serve a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation afterpicking up his eighth of the season in Kansas City last weekend.
Saturday’s match marks the return to the Chicago for a pair of players Fire fans will recognize. Current FC Cincinnati Strength & Conditioning coach Austin Berry was selected by the Fire with the ninth overall selection in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, and went on to win the MLS Rookie of the Year award that season. Berry started and played 68 matches for the Fire across all competitions from 2012-2013 before being traded to the Philadelphia Union ahead of the 2014 season.
Midfielder Corben Bone has appeared six times (two starts) for Cincinnati in their debut season as one of the holdovers from the club’s time in USL. Bone was also a Fire SuperDraft selection, having been acquired with the 13th overall pick in 2010. Bone appeared 23 times in all competitions for the Men In Red from 2010-2013.
Saturday’s game will mark the first meeting between the Fire and FC Cincinnati in MLS play. The two sides have met twice in preseason play – including a 1-1 draw in February’s 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup – and once in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2017.