The Chicago Fire's match Friday night at Sporting Kansas City might seem like just another MLS match.
Not when the second-place Fire (16-8-5, 53 points) can take the Eastern Conference lead from first-place Sporting (16-7-7, 55 points) with a victory.
Not when a playoff berth is still to be clinched.
Not when homefield advantage in the playoffs is at stake.
All in all, not a bad game for NBC Sports Network to broadcast nationally (7:30 p.m.).
"It's a big game for both teams," Fire coach Frank Klopas said Tuesday after training. "You're playing for first place. You don't need to say much about games like that.
"The players understand what's at stake, where they are at this point in the season. There's a lot to play for. I think both teams are going to be ready to play, and it should be an exciting game for the fans."
It's the third time the teams have met this season, and the first two were especially exciting for Fire fans, who saw their team win 2-1 at home May 12 and 1-0 in extreme heat at Livestrong Sporting Park on June 29.
That second game was the Fire's first without playmaker Sebastian Grazzini before he took a leave of absence and eventually was loaned out.
Since then the team has been one of the best in the league. The Fire is 11-3-2 since June 17 and is riding a four-game winning streak.
"It was a big win," forward Chris Rolfe said. "I don't think it was a turning point, but it was a big win for us."
A victory Friday would be big for both teams. Sporting can clinch the playoffs with a win against the Fire. The Fire can clinch with a win Friday and a Houston or Columbus loss Saturday, and that would end a two-year playoff drought.
"It's very important because imagine the last year we were fighting for getting in the playoffs and now we're fighting for first place," said midfielder Pavel Pardo, who seems unlikely to play Friday because of a calf injury that kept him out of training Tuesday.
"That makes everybody happy and proud. But for me my philosophy is every day you have to be the best. If you don't go out to be the best, it's impossible to have success. So now we're in second place, but if we would like to be in first place we have to win on Friday."
By now the Fire knows what to expect from Sporting.
"This will be the third game this season," Klopas said. "We know the team. It's a very well-balanced team. We know them, they know us. There will be no surprises."
"They're an extremely athletic team," Rolfe said. "They like the high press, so we know we're going to have to deal with probably a lot of long balls, a lot of 50-50 challenges, so just being prepared for that is one of the biggest challenges for us."
Fire supporters are hosting a 15th anniversary celebration for the club Oct. 8 at the Chicago History Museum. Tickets are on sale at fireanniversary.com.
Several former Fire stars have committed to attend, including Brian McBride, Lubos Kubik, Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez, Peter Nowak and Ante Razov.
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