FC Dallas returns home on Saturday night hoping to reclaim control of the Brimstone Cup as the Chicago Fire pay a visit to Toyota Stadium for the only meeting between the clubs this season.
Chicago has held the Brimstone Cup since 2012, retaining the trophy last season after a 2-0 victory over Dallas at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois.
Saturday night’s match will also offer FC Dallas the opportunity to turn the page after Wednesday night’s 5-0 defeat on the road against the Seattle Sounders.
A team that has only qualified for one MLS Cup Playoffs since 2010, Chicago sits tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 4-5-8 (W-D-L) record that has netted them 17 points so far this season. This follows a season in which Chicago finished bottom of the entire league, losing 20 matches while winning just eight in 2015.
The Fire have averaged less than a goal per game during the 2016 season, scoring 16 times through their first 17 matches. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has helped steady the Chicago defense since being given the opportunity to start in May by manager Veljko Paunovic, recording three shutouts in his eight starts.
Rookie defender Jonathan Campbell is having a stellar first season for Chicago after being drafted in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of North Carolina. Campbell has started 16 of Chicago’s 17 games this season and scored his first MLS goal in a home draw with D.C. United in late April.
Former FC Dallas midfielder Arturo Alvarez is back in MLS for the first time since 2011 and is enjoying success with the Fire, logging a goal and three assists in 14 appearances. The Chicago midfield is tethered to the play of David Accam though, as the 25 year-old Ghanaian is responsible for four goals (tied for the team lead) and two assists in 10 games played.
Nigerian forward Kennedy Igboananike also has four goals for Chicago in 2016, and continues to make an impact in his second season with the club. Unlike Accam though, Igboananike has not scored since a 2-1 loss at Vancouver in May, with the striker currently in an eight-match scoreless drought.
The fortunes of the Fire have improved of late, as they have won three of their last four matches, including a 1-0 home victory over Sporting Kansas City this past Wednesday. However, Chicago remain winless on the road this season with a record of 0-2-6 (W-D-L) away from Bridgeview.
Oscar Pareja will hope to summon a response from FC Dallas following their humbling 5-0 loss at Seattle during mid-week play. A red card shown to defender Maynor Figueroa during the early stages of that match means the Honduran will be unavailable for Saturday night’s clash with Chicago.
Still in first place in the Western Conference with an 11-4-6 (W-D-L) record and 37 points, Dallas will look to extend their lead atop the West over the Colorado Rapids, who will play at home against Sporting Kansas City simultaneously on Saturday night.
The Rapids still hold three games in hand compared to Dallas, and now also have a better goal differential (+8 compared to +2).
That loss ended goalkeeper Chris Seitz’s three-match shutout streak in goal, although Seitz still has recorded a shutout in over 37% of his starts this season.
Squad rotations by Pareja meant that defender Matt Hedges did not play on Wednesday night, while on-loan defender Aubrey David made his first appearance for the club, playing left back. Figueroa’s suspension means in all likelihood that David will get a second straight start at left back, while Hedges and Walker Zimmerman will again feature at center back.
If a defensive change is to come from Pareja, it will be at right back, where Atiba Harris may get a night off after a poor showing in the defeat to the Sounders.
Like Hedges, midfielders Mauro Diaz and Carlos Gruezo went unused against Seattle, ensuring their fitness for Saturday night. Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa each saw action mid-week, but both should be fine to go against Chicago.
Forward Michael Barrios was unable to add to his team-leading six goals during his substitute appearance against Seattle, but in any case, the Colombian has preferred to score his goals at home of late. Barrios’ last three goals have come at Toyota Stadium, as well as his only assist of the season.
After going 90 minutes on Wednesday, forward Tesho Akindele will likely begin the Chicago match on the bench, with Maxi Urruti and Fabian Castillo filling the attacking roles up top. Urruti in particular has come to life of late, recording a goal and an assist over his last two matches.
FC Dallas carry a franchise-best 15-match home unbeaten run into the match, looking to extend the record with a win or draw against Chicago.
Saturday night’s match will kickoff at 8 p.m. at Toyota Stadium and will feature a Special Olympics Doubleheader with the FC Dallas SO team playing the Chicago Fire SO team after the first match concludes.
Both the FC Dallas U-16 and U-18 teams will be playing for USSDA National Championships during the senior team match as well, with the U-16 title game kicking off at 7 p.m. and the U-18 title match at 9:30 p.m at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California.
Television coverage for FC Dallas vs. Chicago Fire will be found on TXA 21 with radio coverage courtesy of 100.7 FM The Word. Spanish radio will be via 1270 AM Amor Celestial.