Whitecaps FC prepare to host Chicago Fire for the first time this weekend

Chicago make first visit to Vancouver on Sunday

Eric Hassli Chicago Fire

Photo Credit: 
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Looking to make a positive start to the month of August, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-11L-9D) host Eastern Conference club Chicago Fire (2W-6L-13D) in Major League Soccer on Sunday afternoon.

Tom Soehn's squad are looking to bounce back from last weekend's heavy defeat to top MLS club LA Galaxy by getting a morale-boosting result against the Fire on Bell Pitch at Empire Field. They host a Chicago side that have had an equally turbulent 2011 campaign, with the Fire looking to wrap up a busy week of league action in East Vancouver after drawing 1-1 at home to Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.

Sunday's match between Whitecaps FC and Chicago Fire at Empire Field is set for 4 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277). Visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets for more information on individual match tickets for the club's inaugural MLS season.

Whitecaps FC's home match versus Chicago Fire can also be seen live on Sportsnet Pacific and Bell mobile devices at 4 p.m. PT, with a pre-game show beginning at 3:30 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to Sunday's contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show following the match.

WHITECAPS FC

The events of last weekend were not only very disappointing for Soehn's squad, it left the 'Caps faithful scratching their heads as to how the Galaxy left Empire Field with such a comfortable victory. The frustration over that result has been reflected in the intensity of training this week, as the Blue and White look to bounce back and earn a much-needed win in front of their own supporters. After creating several scoring chances in recent matches, the 'Caps will surely have a particular emphasis on finishing their opportunities against the Fire, with Whitecaps FC keen to end a run of six MLS matches without a win.

Whitecaps FC have been boosted this week by the return of experienced midfielder John Thorrington to full training. The former Chicago player looks to have recovered from a calf injury that has plagued him the majority of the season. Also back in Soehn's squad is youngster Omar Salgado. The striker missed last weekend's defeat to LA Galaxy, as he was on international duty with the USA U-18 squad at the 2011 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland. Salgado helped the young Americans to a third-place finish in The Elite Group of the competition. One player that will miss Sunday's game because of international duty is the club's second Designated Player. Mustapha Jarju has been called up by his native Gambia for next Wednesday's international friendly at home to Democratic Republic of the Congo. The striker travels to the West African nation on Sunday and will return in time for Vancouver's trip to D.C. United on Saturday, August 13.

Whitecaps FC are still without striker Atiba Harris, as the St. Kitts & Nevis international is continuing his recovery from knee surgery back in April. Captain Jay DeMerit (adductor strain), defender Bilal Duckett (knee), and playmaker Davide Chiumiento (calf) are all listed as probable to face Chicago.

FIRE

The 2011 campaign has been one of struggle for Chicago, with the Fire facing the possibility of missing the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second straight season. Like Vancouver, Chicago made the decision to change their head coach when it parted ways with Carlos de los Cobos and replaced him in the interim with the club's technical director Frank Klopas at the end of May. Despite the move, the Fire are winless in their last seven league matches and have registered a 1W-3L-9D record since their last meeting with Vancouver nearly three months ago. They also fell 3-1 in a friendly versus English Premier League giants Manchester United FC on July 23. However, their success as a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup side continues, as the Fire are in this year's semifinals.

Despite their woes, Fire supporters were given reasons for optimism following Wednesday's home draw with Philadelphia. Klopas gave MLS debuts to midfielders Sebastián Grazzini and Pável Pardo against the Union, with both players looking impressive in the midweek clash at Toyota Park. Grazzini and Pardo are part of a Fire team that includes the speedy Ghanaian pair of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro, skilful Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, and Colombian youngster Cristian Nazarit. In 22-year-old Sean Johnson, the Fire have a young and athletic goalkeeper in their ranks. Three Chicago players in goalkeepers Jon Conway (Toronto FC) and Alec Dufty (Athletic Club of St. Louis), as well as midfielder Daniel Paladini (Carolina RailHawks), all played against Vancouver during their North American second division days.

The Fire will be without defenders Mike Banner (knee), Cory Gibbs (groin), and Steven Kinney (Achilles tendon), as well as midfielder Marko Maric (posterior capsulitis) for the trip to Canada's west coast. Striker Gabriel Ferrari (ankle) is doubtful to face the 'Caps, while striker Diego Chaves (knee) is listed as questionable.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Sunday's match is the second league meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Fire, with both sides drawing 0-0 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, on May 7. Before this season, Whitecaps FC played former North American Soccer League (NASL) side Chicago Sting 16 times between 1975 and 1984, with the 'Caps registering nine wins and seven defeats during that time. This included an all-time record of five wins and three defeats versus the Sting in Vancouver. Among those matches were Whitecaps FC's final three games in the old NASL. Both the 'Caps and Sting met in the playoff semifinals in 1984, with Chicago winning the best-of-three series two games to one. In fact, the last time Whitecaps FC hosted a team from Chicago was during that NASL playoff semifinal series at BC Place on September 23, 1984.

Four members of Whitecaps FC have strong connections with the Fire and 'The Windy City'. Soehn is not only a native of Chicago, he also enjoyed a successful playing career with the Fire. Soehn led the club to MLS Cup and Lamar Hunt US Open Cup success in the club's first season of existence in 1998 before helping the Fire to another US Open Cup title in 2000. From 2001 to 2003, Soehn served as Chicago's assistant coach. 'Caps assistant coach Denis Hamlett spent 12 years on the coaching staff with Chicago. This included two seasons as Fire head coach in 2008 and 2009.

Before joining Whitecaps FC, Thorrington spent six seasons (2005 - 2010) as a member of the Fire, while DeMerit played the 2001 United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League season with Chicago Fire Premier and had a stellar four-year NCAA Division I career with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

…THEN OFF TO D.C.

Following Sunday's home match, Whitecaps FC will pay their first MLS visit to America's capital when they meet Eastern Conference club D.C. United at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, August 13. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet and Bell mobile devices. There will also be a pre-game show on Sportsnet Pacific at 4 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to the August 13 contest live on TEAM 1040 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1040 will also have a two-hour post-game show following the match.

MLS single match tickets are also available for all of our remaining matches at Empire Field this season, ranging from $20 to $55 (including HST). All tickets are subject to applicable service charges and fees. Fans can purchase these tickets at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca/whitecaps, or Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277).