When the Chicago Fire take on Real Salt Lake tonight at 8:00 PM CST at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, both teams will take the field having won four of their last five games. RSL was on a 5-game winning streak before losing to D.C. United 4-1 on Saturday. The Fire have two 2-game winning streaks with an embarrassing loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in the middle. This winning multiple times has become old hat for the Utah based club. Besides the 5-game winning streak, Real Salt Lake started the 2011 season on a 4-game winning streak. Last year's season also featured a 5-game winning streak and of course it was RSL that set a MLS record when they went undefeated for 29 home games between May 16, 2009 and May 28, 2011. If RSL wins tonight, it likely will be the start of yet another winning streak and a protection of their home fortress. If Chicago wins tonight, Fire fans will see something they haven't seen since 2009.
It's a coincidence that RSL's 29-game home protection dates are May 16 and May 28 because the last time the Fire won 3 games in a row was between May 16 and May 28, 2009. Before that it was between April 26 and May 8, 2008 and before that it was two spans in 2006 and another two spans in 2005. Chicago squads might have been very competitive between 2005 and 2009 but there was no dominance like that of the 1998 to 2003 dynasty built by Peter Wilt. Those early clubs won three games in a row 17 times and that figure counts shootouts as ties. The early Fire might have benefited from some early MLS rules but the 2006 season showcased a run between August 14 and September 23 where the team went 7-1-1 in regular season play and had 4 U.S. Open wins for an overall record of 11-1-1.
Looking back we can see that the 2006 streak was the last time you could consider the Fire primed to win. The recent run of 4-0-1 in league play and the U.S. Open Cup win over Richmond for a 5-0-1 record is arguably the team's most consistent showing since 2006. Winning 4 out of 5 regular season games just doesn't happen very often for Chicago (six times since 2004 and not since April/May 2008). Winning 5 out of 6 regular season games is even rarer (since 2003, it's only been done once). If you have stopped watching the regular season games and put all of your focus on next Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match, you are missing out on some very special Chicago Fire form. If you have been continuing to watch this Fire team play, you just might be setting yourself up for one of the most unlikely and rewarding stories in Major League Soccer history.