Fire looks to Sting TFC

STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:22 AM ET

The Chicago Fire is hoping that history repeats itself. Toronto, not so much.

Tomorrow, the Fire will honour the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Sting's triumph over the Toronto Blizzard in the final NASL Soccer Bowl played before the outdoor version of the league was mothballed. And what better way for the Fire to celebrate than by beating Toronto's current team?

After all, the Fire goes into the game as a heavy favourite. With 31 goals allowed in 26 games, Chicago boasts the second-best defensive record in the East.

Toronto FC hasn't scored a road goal since an Aug. 1 draw in New England. Since then, the Reds have been to Puerto Rico, Los Angeles (twice, to face the Galaxy and Chivas USA), Seattle and Colorado -- and have put up nothing but zeroes. So, for TFC, it might be a case of trying to break down a brick wall with a feather.

"I think that's the foundation of winning a championship," Fire coach Denis Hamlett said. "You've got to be a good defensive group. And it's not just the guys at the back, it's the players up front, too."

Chicago and Columbus have duelled for first in the East all season long. They aren't mentioned as teams that could fall back into the wild card race. But, as much as the casual MLS fan thinks of Chicago being a much, much better team than TFC, it is only six points ahead of the Reds in the standings. Yes, if the Reds win tomorrow, there's a chance TFC still could challenge Chicago for second in the East, and home advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Hamlett laughed at the suggestion that the Fire is home and cooled when it comes to the playoffs.

"It's all so close," he said. "You take out New York and San Jose, and the other 13 teams, there is not a lot of separation. And these teams are all playing each other down the stretch. Every one of those teams is still fighting for a spot."

The Fire was the pre-season pick of many to be the MLS Cup champs in 2009. But things didn't quite work out to plan for the Fire.

Former Toronto FC player Brian McBride missed a couple of months with a bad shoulder.

When McBride was out, the Fire transformed into a team that scores by committee. The club has found the opposition net 36 times, but no player has more than six goals.

"I think we have a nice balance," Hamlett said. "In a long season, guys get called upon at different moments. We have five or six guys who have four, five or six goals each. But we don't have that 15-goal scorer."

The game tomorrow will be McBride's second game back, and Hamlett said the American star still is in the process of getting his timing and "sharpness" back.

STEVEN.SANDOR@SUNMEDIA.CA


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