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TORONTO — While a clash between the 26th- and 28th-ranked teams in Major League Soccer is hardly something to mark down on your calendar, Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire both badly need a result Saturday.
Toronto (3-7-3) is winless in its last six league outings (0-5-1) although it posted a 2-1 road win over HFX Wanderers in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play Tuesday.
Chicago (2-6-5) is winless in nine (0-6-3), hoping to avoid a third double-digit winless run in a single season (both previous slides came in 2011 with 11 straight from April-June and 10 straight from June-August).
Saturday's game is followed by an international break, with Toronto's Jonathan Osorio heading west to join Canada in Vancouver. TFC does have a game looming, however, with the rescheduled 2020 Canadian Championship final against Forge FC on June 4 in Hamilton.
Both Chicago and Toronto coaches have had to deal with injuries. And both believe their teams are better than the record indicates.
"We haven't had a chance to put the same lineup out on a consistent basis," said Chicago coach Ezra Hendrickson. "I think once we do that … we'll be better.
"Because if you look at the games, we're really close. We're not getting beat 4-0, 5-0 every game. We're very, very close."
Four of Chicago's six losses have been by one goal, including a 1-0 defeat at New York City FC last time out.
"They're well organized defensively," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "Early in the year you see a lot of hard-fought, tight games. They're still working through that in terms of figuring out exactly what they are and how they can improve in a bunch of different areas. So I think they are similarities in that regard."
Toronto rallied to tie D.C. United 2-2 last weekend in league play, snapping a five-game losing streak and three-match scoreless run.
"They're a team that's in a position like us, that's trying to get points," said Hendrickson. "They're at home and I expect them to come out fighting."
"Typically getting a point on the road is satisfactory. But we're at a point now where we need to start stealing points from teams," he added. "Because we feel like we've let some teams come into our place and get maximum points which they didn't deserve … It will be a good game even though it's two teams that find ourselves at the bottom of the Eastern (Conference) table right now."
The good news is both sides are not that far out of the playoff picture, with Toronto four points back and Chicago five.
TFC can take solace from the fact it is unbeaten in its last 13 matches (10-0-3) against the Fire dating back to September 2015. The 13-game streak is the longest unbeaten run against an opponent in Toronto’s MLS history and is one off the league regular-season record of 14 straight without defeat against a single opponent, a mark achieved four times.
On the other side of the statistical ledger, Toronto hasn't held MLS opposition scoreless in 21 straight matches, equalling the club record. Its last shutout was a 0-0 draw at Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021.
Chicago, however, comes into the game with the league's worst offence, ranking 28th at just 0.85 goals a game. The Fire have scored just 11 goals in league play, only four more than Toronto's Jesus Jimenez.
Toronto sports the 27th-worst defence, conceding 1.92 goals a game.
TFC will get its first look at Swiss star midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri.
The 30-year-old played for FC Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Stoke City, Liverpool and Lyon prior to signing with Chicago in February. At US$8.153 million, he is the highest-paid player in MLS this season — at least until Italian star Lorenzo Insigne joins Toronto in July.
Shaqiri has won 102 caps for his country, taking part in three World Cups and two European Championships.
"You see his quality every single day," said Chicago defender Wyatt Omsberg. "He'll do something pretty much something every day that's is just like 'Wow." You know his quality. He's a different level.
"He just brings a ton of experience to us as a group and everyone tries to learn from him. He's played at some of the top clubs in the world, (in) some of the biggest games in the world … I think everyone kind of feeds off his energy and the quality that he brings, it raises everyone else's level."
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty Chris Mavinga and Noble Okello remain out for Toronto with lower body injuries. Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, one of Toronto's designated players, and Kadin Chung are listed as questionable.
Chicago will be without Chris Brady and Spencer Richey with Rafael Czichos, Mauricio Pineda and Jairo Torres questionable.
The two teams have ties other than their recent poor form.
Bradley was the first head coach in Chicago Fire history, leading the team to the 1998 MLS championship as well as the 1998 and 2000 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships. During his time in Chicago, Bradley's roster included current Chicago assistant coaches Frank Klopas and C.J. Brown.
Toronto assistant coaches Jon Conway and Mike Sorber both played for the Fire.
Toronto announced the signing Friday of 17-year-old forward Hugo Mbongue, the younger brother of TFC midfielder Ralph Priso, to an MLS Next Pro contract. Mbongue, currently is tied for the Toronto FC II lead in goals (three) and assists (three).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press