Fire-Toronto FC Preview

AP - Sports

Jermain Defoe is healthy and ready for a return, but the Chicago Fire have more to worry about within Toronto FC's attack.

With fellow designated player Gilberto in top form and Luke Moore also making impressive strides, Toronto will have plenty of options when the clubs meet Saturday night at BMO Field.

Chicago is 5-0-4 in the last nine matches of the series, but it hasn't had any experience with Toronto's current assortment of weapons.

Defoe, who has missed three matches with a groin injury, could be paired with Gilberto for just the sixth time in 23 games after the two were brought in prior to the season along with midfielder Michael Bradley to make a playoff push.

Gilberto, who went without a goal in his first nine MLS matches, has scored in three straight games and has five in his last nine despite getting just five starts.

Coach Ryan Nelsen confirmed that Defoe would play in some capacity.

"He looks as sharp as ever, which is all good coming up this weekend," Nelsen said. "He'll be kicking down certain doors if he's not on that field in some stage."

Moore will be tough for Nelsen to bench after his recent efforts. The Englishman has scored in two of his last three matches and started 13 straight.

"When everybody gets back fit, it's a lovely little problem to have," Nelsen said. "That's what we've been trying to go for."

Toronto (9-8-5) concluded a four-match away stretch last Saturday with a 4-1 loss to Kansas City. It went 2-2-0 and allowed nine goals in those four matches despite notching a clean sheet at lowly Montreal.

Toronto could also return captain Steven Caldwell and fellow defender Mark Bloom to help limit the Fire attack after both returned to training this week, though the duo is less of a sure thing than Defoe.

Excluding a 6-0 U.S. Open Cup disaster in Seattle on Aug. 13, Chicago (4-6-13) seems to have found a level ground defensively in the last four league matches after conceding 33 goals through its first 19 - the third-highest total in the league. It has since limited opponents to two over a 1-1-2 league stretch.

The problem now is in the attack, where the Fire have gone nine matches without a multigoal effort. That stretch started July 2 with a 1-all home draw with Toronto, which was without Bradley and Gilberto. The offensive issues most recently resulted in a 1-0 loss at Montreal last Saturday in which Chicago attempted just four shots - tied for its fewest since 2007.

Help could be arriving as soon as Saturday as forward Robert Earnshaw could debut in Toronto, where he played in 2013, after signing with the Fire on Aug. 15.

Chicago enters the weekend three points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 25, and a victory would get it within five points of third-place Toronto.

"We're right there where we can really make a push," goalkeeper Sean Johnson told the club's official website. "It's going to be up to us to dig deep, search and find it within ourselves to search and get the results."

Daily Fantasy
View Comments (0)