Fire look to fan flames of enthusiasm; Big Apple rivalry ready to heat up
Jason Davis highlights three matches worth keeping an eye on as Major League Soccer heads into Week 22.
Chicago looks to keep energy up
On Wednesday, Chicago played host to more than 61,000 soccer fans at Soldier Field when the MLS All-Stars took on Real Madrid. Among the numerous Real Madrid jerseys in the stands were a number emblazoned with "Schweinsteiger" on the back. Some of those were of the Fire variety. More were of Bastian Schweinsteiger's former club, German giants Bayern Munich.
The question on Saturday as the Fire welcome the New England Revolution to town is how much of the enthusiasm shown for the sport on Wednesday night will transfer over to the Fire and Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. The turnaround of the club already has brought renewed interest, but years of bad results damaged the club's ability to capture fans. There are soccer fans in Chicago, the Fire just weren't reaching them.
The first chance to make an impression on any fans whose interest was piqued by the All-Star festivities comes against a Revolution team buoyed by a two-game winning run. Jay Heaps's wanton tinkering has left the Revs scrambling for consistency, putting pressure on the team to follow a pair of victories over mediocre teams with a strong showing against a good one.
Schweinsteiger should be fine after 45 minutes against Real Madrid, as is the case for both Dax McCarty and Nemanja Nikolic.
An additional subplot is the status of David Accam for the match; the Ghanaian winger is reported to be unhappy with the Fire's contract offer and his exclusion from the All-Star roster and is angling for a transfer abroad.
New York geared up for crosstown clash
Rivalries matter when there are things on the line, and when a win for one team hurts the loser even more than records show.
It sure seems that's where we are with the local derby game between New York City FC and the club from across the Hudson River. The post All-Star Game period brings with it heightened tension as clubs push toward the playoffs.
NYCFC is trying to prevent a humbling loss in Toronto setting off a bad run of form. Patrick Vieira's men were comprehensively beaten by Sebastian Giovinco & Co. and can't afford to have their confidence shaken further with a loss at home to the Red Bulls.
They'll take their cues on the field from David Villa, who continues to set an excellent example and lead the club with his MVP-level play. City's bigger issue is in the center of midfield, where Andrea Pirlo's performance in Yangel Herrera's stead left a lot to be desired against TFC. Herrera will be back on the field against the Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls are on a brilliant run of goal scoring as they cross the river. Daniel Royer has six goals in his past four appearances, while the team has scored 15 times in their past four matches overall.
Jesse Marsch's injury list is mostly clear, giving his team the chance to build on their winning streak and jump up the table in the East at the expense of their neighbors from the Bronx.
Can Sporting KC's roll continue?
The league's best defense will play host to one of its most exciting attacks in a Sunday showdown at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Sporting is an established power in the West, utilizing a possession-focused approach to dominate the ball and prevent opponents from scoring. Under Peter Vermes's direction, Sporting sits at the top of the Western Conference standings and has an outside shot at a triple haul of trophies.
Defense isn't the focus at the moment in Kansas City. The decision to trade Dom Dwyer to Orlando City has turned the spotlight on SKC's attacking group. In their first game without Dwyer last week, Sporting scored a 3-2 win over Chicago. Homegrown signing Daniel Salloi showed the talent that earned him a spot on the senior team and the faith of Vermes.
Eyes again will be on Salloi, as well as goal-scoring winger Gerso Fernandes. Diego Rubio likely will lead the line.
Tata Martino's Atlanta United have their own burgeoning confidence. Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almiron arrives in Kansas City fresh off an excellent showing against Real Madrid in the All-Star Game and will be a marked man against Sporting.
Atlanta also has a name to add to an injury list that already includes Josef Martinez for a second stint in 2017. First-choice left-back Greg Garza is expected to miss the game because of a shoulder injury he suffered in the opening minutes of the MLS All-Star Game in Chicago.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.