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RSL vs. Chicago Fire preview: Must-win game against last-place team

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake will face off against their last Eastern Conference club this weekend as they play host to the Chicago Fire at Rio Tinto Stadium. All ten remaining games after this one are against Western Conference opponents.

Where they stand

RSL (9-7-7, 34 points) sits in a virtual tie for fourth place in the Western Conference, although Sporting Kansas City leads on the games won tiebreaker. Salt Lake has one game in hand on SKC, and a win this weekend against the league’s last place team would put them in great position heading into a playoff push.

Salt Lake has only won one of their last five, going 1-2-2 after the win in Philadelphia and a road loss to Toronto FC. Their last win at home came against the Red Bulls on June 22.

Chicago (4-10-6, 18 points), as already mentioned, is dead last—not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league. They’re currently eight points below the red line, but they also have up to three games in hand on the other teams in their conference, so they’re not completely out of it yet.

The Fire have gone 1-3-1 in their last five MLS match-ups, most recently earning a point with a draw at home against the Red Bulls. While they’re unbeaten at home in six matches, they have yet to earn a win on the road this season, with a record of 0-8-2—good for the second-worst away record in the league.

Given the circumstances, I would call this a must-win game for RSL—it would be devastating for them to drop points at home against a team who’s sitting in last place with only two road points to their name all season.

Match history

Chicago holds a slight edge in the all-time series between these two clubs, with a 6-7-5 record in MLS regular season play. They’ve managed to outscore RSL 25-20 overall as well.

RSL has won the last two games of the series by scores of 3-2 and 2-1—both on the road at Toyota Park. Who can forget the wild comeback in May 2014 from being down 2-0 at the half when Plata notched the game-winner in the 93rd minute?

RSL hasn’t beat Chicago at home since 2010 when they won 1-0. The two matches in Sandy since then have resulted in a 3-0 win for Chicago (2011) and a 1-1 draw (2013).

Key players

To be honest, it’s a little difficult to pick a standout player from Chicago aside from David Accam. He had a great start to the season, picked up an injury, and has been slightly underwhelming since his return. He’s the team’s leading scorer this season with five goals and two assists. Accam scored this last weekend against the Red Bulls, but he hadn’t scored before that since June.

They sent arguably their next best player, Kennedy Igboananike, to DC United last week in a deal that saw the Fire pick up some targeted allocation money and a third-round draft pick in 2019. Newly-acquired Dutch striker Michael de Leeuw has also picked up a goal and an assist through five games played for the Fire.

On the claret-and-cobalt side, Joao Plata has had himself a great couple of games—scoring a goal in Philadelphia and firing off nine shots on goal between the two games. He found himself in a bit of a midseason slump, but seems to be finding his form again and will keep pushing to add to his six goals and seven assists on the season. His work rate has been undeniable the last few games as we’ve seen him chase down balls and beat defenders with his quickness.

Lineups

Chicago will be missing midfielder Khaly Thiam due to a disciplinary committee suspension, as well as Joao Meira, who is out with a hamstring injury he picked up last weekend against the Red Bulls. In addition, midfielder Matt Polster and Joey Calistri are both listed as questionable for this weekend.

RSL looks to still be without Yura Movsisyan and Jordan Allen, who both are still questionable as far as their injuries go. They’ve both missed the last two games, and it remains to be seen if either of them will be match fit for this weekend. In addition, Sunny and Emery Welshman are still out with their injuries.

RSL expected lineup: Rimando; Phillips, Maund, Glad, Beltran; Mulholland, Morales, Beckerman; Plata, Garcia, Martinez

Chicago expected lineup: Johnson; Harrington, Campbell, Kappelhof, Ramos; LaBrocca, Stephens, Accam, Goossens, Alvarez; de Leeuw