TORONTO — While a clash between the 26th and 28th ranked teams in Major League Soccer is hardly something to mark on your calendar, Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire both desperately need a result on Saturday.
Toronto (3-7-3) has been winless in its last six league games (0-5-1), although it recorded a 2-1 road win over HFX Wanderers in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Championship on Tuesday.
Chicago (2-6-5) is winless in nine (0-6-3), hoping to avoid a third double-digit scoreless run in one season (both previous slides came in 2011 with 11 straights from April-June and 10 direct from June-August).
Saturday’s game will be followed by an international break with Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio heading west to join Canada in Vancouver. TFC has a match looming though, with the rescheduled 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Forge FC on June 4 in Hamilton.
Both Chicago and Toronto coaches have dealt with injuries. And both believe their teams are better than the record indicates.
“We haven’t had a chance to build the same lineup on a consistent basis,” said Chicago coach Ezra Hendrickson. “I think once we do that… we’ll be better.
“Because if you look at the games, we are very close. We are not beaten 4-0 or 5-0 every game. We are very, very close.”
Four of Chicago’s six losses were by one goal, including a 1-0 loss to New York City FC last time.
“They are well organized defensively,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. “At the beginning of the year you see a lot of hard-fought, tight matches. They are still working on that to figure out exactly what they are and how they can improve in a number of different areas. So I think it’s similarities in that regard.”
Toronto rallied to tie DC United 2-2 in the league last weekend, breaking a five-game loss streak and a three-game winless run.
“It’s a team that’s in a position like us, trying to take points,” Hendrickson said. “They are at home and I expect them to come out fighting.”
“Normally it’s satisfying to get a point on the road. But we are now at a point where we have to start stealing points from teams,” he added. “Because we feel like we let some teams come in our place and got maximum points that they didn’t deserve… It It’s going to be a good game, even if it’s two teams that are at the bottom of the eastern (conference) table right away.”
The good news is that both sides aren’t that far out of the playoffs, with Toronto four points back and Chicago five.
TFC can take comfort in being undefeated in its last 13 games (10-0-3) against the Fire dating back to September 2015. The 13-game streak is the longest undefeated streak against an opponent in MLS history of Toronto and is the league’s regular season record of 14 straight without defeat to a single opponent, scoring four times.
On the other side of the statistical ledger, Toronto has failed to keep the MLS opposition scoreless in 21 consecutive games, tying the club record. The last shutout was a 0-0 draw in Colorado on September 25, 2021.
However, Chicago comes in with the league’s worst offense, ranking 28th with just 0.85 goals per game. The Fire scored just 11 goals in the league, just four more than Toronto’s Jesus Jimenez.
Toronto has the 27th worst defense, conceding 1.92 goals per game.
TFC gets its first look at Swiss star midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri.
The 30-year-old played for FC Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Stoke City, Liverpool and Lyon before signing with Chicago in February. At $8,153 million, he is the highest-paid player in MLS this season – at least until Italian star Lorenzo Insigne comes to Toronto in July.
Shaqiri has won 102 caps for his country and has competed in three World Cups and two European Championships.
“You see his quality every day,” said Chicago defender Wyatt Omsberg. “He’s going to do something like ‘Wow’ every day.” You know its quality. He is on a different level.
“He just brings us a lot of experience as a group and everyone is trying to learn from him. He’s played at some of the best clubs in the world, (in) some of the biggest games in the world… I think everyone is feeding their energy and the quality he brings, it raises everyone’s level.”
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty Chris Mavinga and Noble Okello stay out of Toronto with lower body injuries. Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, one of Toronto’s designated players, and Kadin Chung are considered questionable.
Chicago will be questionable without Chris Brady and Spencer Richey with Rafael Czichos, Mauricio Pineda and Jairo Torres.
The two teams have ties other than their recent poor form.
Bradley was the first head coach in Chicago Fire history, leading the team to the 1998 MLS Championship and the 1998 and 2000 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Championships. During his time in Chicago, Bradley’s roster included current Chicago assistant coaches Frank Klopas and CJ Brown.
Toronto assistant coaches Jon Conway and Mike Sorber both played for the Fire.
Toronto announced Friday the signing of 17-year-old striker Hugo Mbongue, the younger brother of TFC midfielder Ralph Priso, to an MLS Next Pro contract. Mbongue is currently tied for Toronto FC II’s lead in goals (three) and assists (three).
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 27, 2022