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A Wounded Champ Approaches: Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers Preview

The Chicago Fire have a chance to take a winning streak into the break, will have to go through defending MLS Cup Champion Timbers

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Take it all in tonight, cause this is the last you’ll be seeing of the Fire for awhile.

Saturday’s match will be the last time fans can see the Men in Red until June 18, thanks to the Copa America Centenario craze that’s sweeping across our fair country for the early part of June. A team with the worst record in the league would seem to revel in a three-week break that saves them from further heartbreak, but the Fire will hope to carry some good vibes into the break with a chance to capture their first winning streak of the season at home against the Portland Timbers. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. on CSN Chicago.

Lingering Question:

Preseason Results: They Matter, Right?

Technically, this will be the second time these two sides have played each other this season. The Fire capped off an undefeated preseason by defeating the Timbers 2-0 in Portland. It was a time when the Fire showed off some creative attacking, putting 8 shots on goal and frustrating the Timbers with a 5-3-2 formation that prevented many clear looks on goal. That Chicago has all but vanished since the start of the regular season, but with a healthy David Accam and after a confidence-building win against a struggling Houston Dynamo squad, it’s possible the Fire can find some happy medium between the two extremes.

When is a Win Not a Win?

Last week saw the Fire claim their first win since April 2 in a 1-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo, After a three-game road trip which saw the offense miss their flight from Chicago, the team managed a goal and 20 shots against the Dynamo. All of these are great numbers, but it would be astute to note the Dynamo are every bit the worst team in the Western Conference and haven’t won a road game since last July. A win is always a confidence booster for the team and its fans, but convincing wins against talented teams will do a bit more to raise that confidence going forward.

The Opponent:

That match against a truly talented team will have to wait until June 18’s match against the Colorado Rapids (feels so weird to type that), as the Fire face off against a Timbers team that’s a shell of last year’s MLS Cup Champions.

Portland currently sees itself in eighth place in the Western Conference, with 15 points in 13 matches. Like Houston last week, Portland enters this match looking for their first road win of the season, having gone 0-4-2 so far and being outscored 12-6. That has been a theme of Portland’s struggles this year, as they’ve allowed 24 goals in 13 matches, an unglamorous stat that has them tied for worst in the league for goals against. Their center backs have struggled with speedy players so far this season, which should have David Accam drooling at the chance to challenge that back line.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Portlandia though, as the team’s 21 goals have them tied for third in the league. More than a third of those have come from forward Fanendo Adi, whose tallied eight goals and two assists in 12 games. He’s questionable for tonight’s game, which could be a blessing for the Fire as Adi’s calm striking precision and hold-up play creates fits for any defense.

Unfortunately for the Timbers (and fortunately for the Fire), Adi is not the lone starter whose absence could be felt Saturday night. Adam Kwarasey, Alvas Powell and Darren Mattocks are all out with injuries, and impact starters Darlington Nagbe and Jermaine Taylor are out on national team duty. For a team that has been struggling to find any consistency this season, those losses could be insurmountable.

Of course, that same reasoning existed last week when the Timbers were missing all the previously mentioned players aside from Nagbe and Taylor. They responded with a resounding 4-2 home win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, at times dominating the fourth-ranked team in the Western Conference. If the Timbers can find even an ounce of consistency, they should be back on their way up the conference standings.

Betting Line and Predictions: has the probabilities as follows: A 46 percent change for a Chicago Fire win, Portland Timbers with a 26 percent chance of a win, and a 27 percent chance for a draw.

If either of these teams are going to make a move toward respectability this season, then Saturday is the day to do it. Portland’s roster is thin with injuries and players with their national teams, which could make this Chicago’s best opportunity to claim their ever victory over the Pacific Northwest foes. The Fire have played better at home this season, and it looks like the stars are aligned for them to enter the Copa America break with a two-match winning streak. I’ll go with a 2-1 victory for the Fire in front of what should be a raucous Toyota Park crowd.

What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below!