Fire-Toronto FC Preview

National Sports

Toronto FC head coach Javier Perez feels his side are finally starting to click after stringing together a four-match unbeaten run ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Chicago Fire FC.

The Reds have won two and drawn one of their last three MLS games and also cruised to a 4-0 win over York United in the Canadian Championship quarter-finals two weeks ago.

Perez’s side are left jostling for position in the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference, but the Spaniard is glad that his players are finally starting to believe in themselves.

“When you are down there, it’s very difficult to get out. It looks like nothing goes your way,” Perez said. “The team is finally clicking.

“This group of individuals is starting to look like a team. The team is getting more confidence. We are in a good place towards the end of the season.”

Chicago snapped a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 win over New York City FC last time out, but that victory was not enough to keep Raphael Wicky in a job.

The Fire confirmed the departure of their head coach on Thursday, with former assistant Frank Klopas stepping up for this trip to BMO Field.

Despite the upheaval, though, Perez expects the visitors to be fully up for Sunday’s contest.

“It’s always challenging when you play a team that just replaced the coach,” he said.

“The motivation is going to be there. In this case, its a new coach but not a new coach as Frank has been with the team.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Toronto FC – Jacob Shaffelburg

Homegrown talent Shaffelburg has played a big part in Toronto’s hot streak thanks to a couple of goals and four assists across their four-game unbeaten run. The 21-year-old had previously been directly involved in only one goal in his first 16 appearances of the season.

Chicago Fire FC – Federico Navarro

Navarro was on the scoresheet against New York City FC with his first career goal for the Fire in his sixth appearance since joining from Talleres de Cordoba in August. The youngster dominated the middle of the park with a team-leading four tackles and three interceptions, while nobody came close to turning over the ball as many times (16).

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Toronto are unbeaten in 12 straight matches against the Fire (W9 D3), the longest current regular season unbeaten run by one team against another in MLS. The run is both Toronto’s longest unbeaten run and Chicago’s longest winless run against a single opponent in each of the clubs’ histories.

– Toronto defeated FC Cincinnati 3-2 in midweek but are yet to win consecutive games this season. They have won their last two home games, their first back-to-back home wins in 2021.

– Chicago have picked up only four points away from home this season, fewer than any other team. In fact, only Toronto have lost more times on the road (11) than the Fire (10) in 2021.

– Toronto scored all three goals from inside the box in their midweek victory over Cincinnati and are now on a run of 15 straight goals scored from inside the box. Excluding penalties, Toronto have scored 94 per cent of their goals from inside the box this season (29/30), the highest ratio in the league.

– The Fire have scored just six goals away from home this season, the fewest in MLS. Indeed, Chicago failed to score in their last three away games but have never failed to score in four consecutive games on the road in the club’s history (excluding playoffs).

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