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Fire host defending champion Rapids

8/26/2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- It has been 16 months since the Chicago Fire have posted back-to-back victories. They have an opportunity to put an end to that trend when they host the 2010 MLS champion Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Saturday's match marks the start of a Western Conference-heavy schedule over the next month. After Saturday, Chicago takes a two-week break from MLS action but hosts the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers on Tuesday in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

The Fire have posted a 1-0-1 mark on their current homestand, most recently earning a 2-0 win against Toronto FC last Saturday.

Wins have been difficult to come by for the Fire (3-7-15), and posting back-to-back victories would be something that this organization has not seen since topping D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo on April 17 and 24, respectively, during the 2010 season.

The Rapids (10-6-11), despite the absence of forward Conor Casey (torn left Achilles tendon), have not missed a beat this year. Colorado is in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and is at the top of the wild-card race.

"They're a good, solid, consistent team," Fire defender Dan Gargan said. "That's what happens when you keep a good core together. They know about one another, they know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and they play a solid game. They defend well from the back to the front, and they have some good leaders in the back and in their central midfield."

Gargan originally was drafted by Colorado in 2005 and spent several seasons with the Rapids. The right back credits Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni as someone who has shaped his career. So for a second straight week, Gargan is going up against some familiar faces after netting a goal against his former Reds last week.

"I learned a lot from Pablo when I was in Colorado," Gargan said. "He's certainly a great guy to be leading that team. So it's going to be a tough game for us, but it's one that we want to come out with three points again. I think that we feel that we're playing some good football, and we want to hopefully do whatever we can to make a push for the playoffs."

The Fire played to a 1-1 draw against Colorado in the first league meeting between the two sides on April 30 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Marco Pappa gave the Fire a first-half lead, but the Rapids' Andre Akpan found the equalizer early in the second half. Also this year, Chicago defeated Colorado, 2-1, on March 30 in an Open Cup play-in match in Peoria, Ill. Fire rookie defender Jalil Anibaba had the game-winner, striking from a good 35 to 40 yards out.

Though Casey has been out since mid-July, the Rapids have had a balanced attack this season. Casey, Caleb Folan and Jeff Larentowicz are tied for the team lead with six goals apiece. Sanna Nyassi has four goals and three assists on the year, and MLS All-Star Omar Cummings leads the Rapids with six assists while contributing three goals.

Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens has started in all 27 of the Rapids' regular-season games this year, posting six shutouts and 60 saves.

Fire second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson posted his fifth shutout of the season last week against Toronto. In that match, Dominic Oduro tallied his team-leading eighth goal.

The Rapids had a Tuesday match in the CONCACAF Champions League, playing to a 1-1 draw against Real Espana. Larentowicz netted Colorado's first-half goal, but Real tallied an equalizer in the 90th minute.

Hurricane affects weekend schedule: With the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene along the Atlantic coast, Major League Soccer has made several adjustments within this weekend's schedule. Saturday's match between D.C. United and the expansion Portland Timbers at RFK Stadium has been postponed, and a new date will be announced next week. The Philadelphia Union's match against the New England Revolution, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been moved to Wednesday at PPL Park. And the New York Red Bulls' Sunday game against the Los Angeles Galaxy has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Red Bull Arena.