The Chicago Fire have lacked trophy case hardware these days, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and SuperLiga tournaments went away in the blink of an eye this season.
But there is a potential prize this weekend when they battle for the Brimstone Cup on Saturday at FC Dallas.
The Brimstone has been a fixture between the former Dallas Burn and Fire since 2001, awarding the trophy to whichever squad earns the season series. But Dallas has hung onto the honor since 2002 in a lopsided span, also retaining the trophy for 2003 and 2009 when the teams were tied in points.
The two teams played to a 1-1 draw on May 27 earlier this season at Toyota Park. Should the teams draw again Saturday, or if Dallas pulls off the victory, the Brimstone stays with FCD.
But more important is the match at hand from Chicago's standpoint of maintaining the faint hope for this year's postseason. And the Fire are taking on a Dallas side that is in the midst of a 17-match unbeaten streak and on the verge of clinching a playoff berth with an 11-2-13 record.
Chicago (7-10-8) was at the opposite end of the spectrum, feeling the pressure of a seven-match winless streak until the Fire offense burst out a 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday.
"The most important thing is the players still concentrate [and] focus on the season," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We have the commitment of our fans to try to have a good finish to the season."
Dallas midfielder David Ferreira has been the team's main weapon with a team-high 12 assists and seven goals, while forward Jeff Cunningham leads the squad with 10 goals. The Fire's Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Nyarko and Steven Kinney all netted their first goals of the season during the Fire's win over San Jose, and Ljungberg's well-rounded match included a pair of assists.
The Chicago-Dallas rivalry is not what it once was with the former Central Division sides now playing in opposite conferences these days, with Chicago in the East and Dallas in the West. But the supporters groups to the players from those early seasons know just how heated (pardon the pun) this Fire-Burn matchup was from the get-go.
From the Burn eliminating the defending MLS champion Fire in 1999, to the Fire's Dema Kovalenko breaking Burn defender Brandon Pollard's leg, to Lubos Kubik's string of goals in the first few Fire-Burn matchups, to the very first Brimstone match on April 21, 2001, where Dallas erased a 2-0 deficit to garner a 3-2 victory, to the Fire's DaMarcus Beasley and Ante Razov losing consciousness during a 2-2 draw on Sept. 8, 2001.
It was heated, all right.
This year's Fire are clinging by a mathematical thread to stay in postseason contention. Renewing the all-out animosity of this matchup wouldn't be a bad approach on Saturday, would it?