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Real Salt Lake vs. Chicago Fire preview: Two teams vying for first win

Both teams sit on one point after the season opener, and both teams will look to grab the full three this weekend.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

After both teams kicked the season off with draws last weekend, Real Salt Lake will travel to Chicago to face off with the Fire at Toyota Park, as both teams will search for their first three-point performance of the season.

Chicago came back from a 1-0 deficit in their season opener last week to earn a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew, thanks to a 73rd-minute goal from David Accam. Back in Sandy, RSL kept a clean sheet against MLS Cup runners-up Toronto FC with a 0-0 draw with a huge penalty save from Nick Rimando.

Match history

The two clubs are dead even throughout the all-time series, both going 6-6-7 through 19 matches in regular season play, although Chicago holds the edge on goals scored, 22-18. Through 10 games in Chicago all-time, they’ve both gone 3-3-4.

RSL has won the last three meetings —while drawing the previous two — dating all the way back to May 9, 2012.

The most recent game between the two sides came on August 6 last year while RSL was on their mid-season hot streak. The home side took a 3-1 victory with ease, thanks to two goals from Javier Morales and one from Olmes Garcia. Arturo Alvarez got the Fire’s lone goal in the 58th minute.

They’ve met once in the playoffs — on November 14, 2009 when RSL visited Chicago’s home for the Eastern Conference Final. The game ended 0-0 through extra time, and Salt Lake took home the victory, outscoring the Fire 5-4 in a penalty shootout.

Key players and personnel

MLS: Playoffs-Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago had a productive offseason — widely viewed as the most-improved squad since last season — adding key midfielders in Dax McCarty and Juninho, while replacing goalkeeper Sean Johnson with 35-year-old Jorge Bava and bolstering their attack with Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic.

Expecting to make a real run for the playoffs this year, Chicago has plenty of work to do. They’ll aim to grab the full three points in their home opener against RSL while Juninho makes his debut after serving a one-game suspension last week. While the Fire had an abysmal 2016 season, one of the bright spots is their record at home, boasting a 6-3-8 record, tied for the least amount of home games lost in the Eastern Conference. Through their last 13 home games, they only lost once, and haven’t been shut out in their last 15.

That’s not to say Chicago can expect a guaranteed three points — or even one point — against a relatively new-look Real Salt Lake. With new DP signing Albert Rusnak leading the charge and putting out a great showing against Toronto, we can expect RSL to put some real pressure on Chicago’s less-than-perfect back line.

While unable to find the back of the net, we saw Rusnak have a couple good looks on goal at home last week, along with having the ability to create a handful of scoring chances. Not a bad MLS debut for the young midfielder.

RSL also outshot the Reds 17-9, which suggests that the attacking movement is there, but the accuracy in finishing needs a little improvement. Being able to say this after only one game in the season is pretty substantial on its own.

With the return of RSL’s U-20 players, it’s possible we could see the debut of Brooks Lennon and/or Bofo Saucedo this weekend after their incredibly successful performances in the U-20 CONCACAF Championship. Reports came out earlier this week that Justen Glad’s knee injury he suffered in last week’s game against Honduras may keep him sidelined for this weekend’s game as well.

Note: Jeff Cassar just confirmed that Chris Schuler will be out for this game with a foot injury.


Injuries

Chicago: John Goossens (ankle surgery), Matt Polster (knee), Matt Lampson (knee)

RSL: Justen Glad (knee), Aaron Maund (hamstring), Demar Phillips (hamstring), Chris Schuler (foot)

Expected lineups

Chicago: Bava; Harrington, Meira, Kappelhof, Vincent; McCarty, Juninho; Alvarez, De Leeuw, Accam; Nikolic

RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Horst, Schmidt, Wingert; Beckerman, Sunny; Allen, Rusnak, Plata; Movsisyan

Match info

When: Saturday, March 11, 12:00pm MT

Where: Toyota Park — Bridgeview, IL

Weather: 28 degrees, partly cloudy

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live

Referee: Kevin Stott