Ezra Hendrickson has targeted nine points from the next nine on offer as Chicago Fire FC begin a three-game homestand on Saturday against Columbus Crew.
The Fire are bottom of the Eastern Conference standings after winning just four of their 18 MLS matches this season.
However, two of those victories have come in their past two matches at Soldier Field, where Columbus, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders visit over the next week.
Far from being concerned by his side’s poor form overall this campaign, Hendrickson is confident that Chicago can turn things around in front of their own supporters.
“We just have to keep calm, we just have to keep confident and continue to believe in what it is that we’re doing,” he said.
“It’s something that we know that wasn’t going to happen overnight, but as long as we’re seeing progress, we must continue to remain confident in that.
“These three games, we need nine points and we are going to go out and get all nine points. But the first and most important is this first one against Columbus.”
Columbus are five points better off than their opponents and are five games without defeat, albeit with three of those finishing in ties – two of them by the same 0-0 scoreline.
Holding Philadelphia Union last week was a positive result, even if Caleb Porter felt they deserved all three points, and leaves them within touching distance of the playoffs in the East.
“We’re defending as well as any team in the league, and our mentality is excellent,” Porter said. “We’re doing things different in different games, home and away.
“We’re playing really well and that is not going to get lost on me. I mean, I hope it doesn’t get lost on anyone else. It’s certainly not going to get lost on me and the locker room.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chicago Fire FC – Gabriel Slonina
The Fire have kept a clean sheet in five of their eight home matches this season, making them one of the strongest defensive sides in the league on their day. Slonina’s seven clean sheets overall is the joint-second highest total in MLS this season, behind only New York City FC’s Sean Johnson (eight).
Columbus Crew – Jacen Russell-Rowe
Signed from Toronto FC for a small amount in General Allocation Money, Russell-Rowe lit up the MLS Next Pro and has made the step up to MLS over the past few weeks. The Canadian forward has featured in each of the Crew’s past four matches and registered two assists in the recent 2-1 win over his former club.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– The home side has not lost any of the last 17 MLS meetings between the Crew and Fire (W10 D7), with the visiting team winning just three of the 37 meetings between the sides since 2008 (including playoffs). Chicago have lost only one of their last 20 home matches against the Crew (W9 D10), avoiding defeat in the last eight.
– The Fire lost for the ninth time in their last 13 MLS matches (W2 D2) with a 2-1 defeat to San Jose Earthquakes last week. Chicago have recorded back-to-back home wins, with 1-0 victories over D.C. United and Philadelphia Union after winning just one of their first six home matches this season (D3 L2).
– Columbus earned a 2-1 win at Toronto in their past away match on June 29, their second win in their past three on the road (D1). The Crew have lost only two of their past 11 away matches (W3 D6) after losing 24 of the previous 41 road games dating back to early 2019.
– The Fire have been difficult to break down at home, keeping clean sheets in five of their eight home matches this season. Chicago have kept 10 clean sheets in their last 15 home matches, tied for the most home clean sheets in MLS since the start of last August.
– Only the Union (13) have allowed fewer goals this season than Columbus (18). This is the fourth time in the last five seasons that Columbus have allowed 20 or fewer goals through the first half of the season (25 in 2019).