The Chicago Fire likely will need a lot of breaks down the stretch to qualify for the postseason, and they look to take advantage of one received midweek as they face the New England Revolution on the road Saturday night in a potential six-point belter.
The Fire (8-9-11) are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference but only one back of seventh-place Montreal and two behind No. 6 New England (9-8-9). The four sides directly ahead of them, though, all have matches in hand, which makes every contest a “must-not lose” at the very least.
Chicago won for the third time in four matches last Saturday, knocking Philadelphia out of the top spot in the East with a 2-0 victory. Nemanja Nikolic scored both goals in a seven-minute span late in the first half, converting from the spot on 45 minutes for his 50th goal for the Fire.
“The spirit of that locker room now is starting to really, really believe in a comeback that we are chasing right now,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic told ProSoccer USA. “The chances are even now so we are going to keep working hard and grind the points we need to get to the playoffs.”
The Fire played the entire second half with 10 men after Nico Gaitan was given a straight red card for tackling Jamiro Monteiro from behind. Chicago appealed the decision to the league’s Independent Review Panel on Tuesday and won, getting Gaitan’s red card rescinded to make him available for this match.
Chicago has just one win in 13 road matches (1-3-9) this season, and the 1-0 victory at Houston on Aug. 3 represents its lone victory outside Seat Geek Stadium in its last 25 dating back to last season (1-6-18).
The Revs are home following back-to-back draws and a 1-1 stalemate versus the Red Bulls last Saturday. Late summer signing Gustavo Bou continued his purple patch of scoring, netting the equalizer in the 65th minute, but it was keeper Matt Turner who was the hero as his diving save on a point-blank shot by Bradley Wright-Phillips in second-half stoppage time preserved a valuable point for New England.
It started a big week for the 25-year-old Turner, who finished with a career-high nine saves and put pen to paper on a multiyear extension Wednesday. New England’s reversal in fortune has coincided with Turner being given the No. 1 shirt as the Revs are 6-5-1 since making him starter.
“He’s a good, young goalkeeper,” sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena told New England’s official website. “He was out of contract this year, and I certainly felt that he’s a player that we’re willing to invest more time in. So he’ll be around in New England for a couple more years, for sure, and I think he’s got a bright future.”
Offensively, the partnership of Bou and Carles Gil continues to prove damaging to opponents. Bou has four goals and an assist in six matches since joining from Club Tijuana in Liga MX, and Gil has been rejuvenated with the Argentine’s arrival, totaling four goals and five assists in that span.
New England is 7-6-1 in its last 14 league matches, including 4-2-1 in its last seven at home. The lone defeat came to Supporters’ Shield frontrunner Los Angeles FC in its most recent contest at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 3.
The Fire are seeking to do the double over the Revs after embarrassing them 5-0 on May 8. That led to the firing of coach Brad Friedel the next day and general manager Mike Burns within a week. Nikolic had a brace in that game while Gaitan added a goal and two assists.
Chicago is 5-2-0 in the last seven games between the teams but 2-1-8 in its last 11 visits to Boston.
(Nico Gaitan photo courtesy Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)