It will be a varying set of circumstances Saturday when visiting Los Angeles FC set an eye on the highest spot in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, while the Chicago Fire takes the field knowing their playoff hopes have been dashed.
On a six-match unbeaten streak, LAFC (14-7-8, 50 points) will head into play Saturday in reach of the top spot in the Western Conference, at present held by FC Dallas (53 points). Sporting Kansas City sits in second place at 51 points.
The Fire (7-16-7, 28 points) are at the opposite end of the standings. They will start Saturday three points from the bottom spot of the Eastern Conference. Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention with a loss at New York City FC on Wednesday.
The subplot in all of it is that head coach Bob Bradley’s expansion LAFC side looks a lot like the Bradley-coached Chicago Fire expansion team in 1998 that set the league on its ear with an MLS Cup title.
“The special feeling of the first few years was the connection with the city,” Bradley said. “It’s the part I speak about all the time (with LAFC), what it feels like when you look into our stands and get a sense of how, even in a first season there is a strong connection and we are all together in something that is different and special.”
It will not be as simple as LAFC taking advantage of a deflated side. Before losing at NYCFC, who have just one defeat all season at home, the Fire had been unbeaten in their three previous matches as they showed solid form while making a last-ditch playoff push.
Before the 2-0 defeat to New York City, the Fire had outscored their opponents 7-3 over a three-game stretch. NYCFC earned a playoff spot with the victory. The Fire’s disappointment was evident.
“One clinching the playoffs, the other one staying outside,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It’s been tough for us to accept that (Wednesday), but it is what it is, so we will move forward and will play the next games, always trying our best, always trying to win and do our best in every single game.”
LAFC will be without defender Matt Polster (knee), midfielder Diego Campos (knee), midfielder Mo Adams (hamstring), forward Luis Solignac (groin), defender Christian Dean (hamstring) and defender Grant Lillard (quad).
The Fire will be without goalkeeper Quillan Roberts (leg), midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye (ankle), midfielder Aaron Kovar (knee) and defender Danilo Silva (hamstring).