The Chicago Fire might be forgiven if they feel a letdown when they host the longtime rival New England Revolution on Saturday night at Toyota Park in Bridgewater, Ill.
The Fire are still basking in the glow of hosting a successful MLS All-Star Game this week at Soldier Field that drew a capacity crowd of 61,000-plus fans to watch the league’s stars battle Real Madrid to a 1-1 regulation tie.
Real Madrid went on to win in a shootout.
But Chicago (11-5-5, 38 points) has more to celebrate than hosting a successful marquee, sellout game at an NFL stadium.
The Fire have experienced a turnaround year and are on track to make the playoffs after missing in two straight seasons. Chicago is suddenly a hot ticket, forcing team officials to consider adding seating at suburban Toyota Park.
They even floated the idea of playing an upcoming regular-season game at Soldier Field. Details, however, reportedly could not be arranged with the village of Bridgeview, owner of the Fire’s home field.
Nevertheless, it’s suddenly fun to be a Fire fan again.
“My sense is that we do we have a really dependable core group of players that enjoy each other,” said Chicago general manager Nelson Rodriguez. “They have taken that next step from last year. Last year, we learned how to compete, this year we are learning how to win and then the next step beyond that is learn how to be a champion.”
Chicago has dropped two straight league matches and needs a victory to stay within striking distance of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto.
The Fire go for a season series sweep on Saturday after beating the Revolution in two previous meetings this season.
New England (7-9-5, 26 points) has yet to win on the road while the Fire are 9-0-1 at home.
One player to watch on Saturday is striker Kei Kamara, who led the Revs to a 3-0 triumph over Philadelphia last week.
Kamara now has three goals and one assist in his last two matches and aims to build on his recent production.
“Kei is putting his head down and working and understanding that we’re trying to get him service, trying to do things to make our entire team better,” New England coach Jay Heaps said after last week’s lopsided victory. “But in that meantime, he’s working. He worked really hard. I thought he did all of the little things.”