Newcomer Hernan Bernardello was strong in his Impact debut as Montreal beat the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 on Wednesday night at Saputo Stadium in their first Champions League game in five years.
The Impact, however, have just one win in their last seven MLS games, including a 3-1 loss in Washington, D.C., last Saturday.
Now that Montreal is on the right track in the tournament's group stage, midfielder Patrice Bernier hopes that solid effort will continue against the Fire on Saturday night.
"It's a boost for the team's morale and confidence," Bernier said. "It was a solid game and we needed to get back to basics and now we have that good base to attack the MLS every game. All of the games count all the time but now that the standings are so tight we know that we have to get our points."
Those points have been hard to come by lately for the Impact. Montreal has six points in its last seven games (1-3-3), three of those coming in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on July 27 when substitute Blake Smith scored in stoppage time.
The skid has dropped the Impact out of the Eastern Conference lead to third place, with a 10-6-5 mark and 35 points in 21 games. Montreal trails first-place New York by three points and second-place Kansas City by one, but the Impact hold two games in hand on both teams.
"We're going to Chicago, a team that's playing well and they have the offensive abilities that make the difference so we're heading there with clear heads and ready to attack and come out of there with as many points as possible," Bernier said.
The Fire, who have also played 21 games, have climbed to seventh in the East after struggling to a 2-7-1 start that included a 2-0 loss in Montreal on Apr. 27.
In contrast to the Impact, Chicago enters riding a hot streak in MLS play but is coming off a disappointing loss Wednesday night. The Fire were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup following a 2-0 semifinal loss to D.C. United at Toyota Park.
"I think at this point they're a different team, we're a different team," Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich said. "They're in the same boat as us so it's just going to be a matter of digging down deep and getting through this game and we've got to find a way to get points.
Chicago's season turned around after they acquired Mike Magee from Los Angeles on May 24.
"They've started slow this year but they're a talented team," said Impact forward Justin Mapp, who played for the Fire from 2003-'10. "I know some of their players and the addition of Mike Magee certainly helped them and they've kind of caught their stride. They've had a number of good results in the last number of games. It's a tough place to play."
Magee, who leads the MLS with 14 goals, came to Chicago in the trade that sent the rights to Robbie Rogers to the Galaxy. Rogers became the first openly gay man to play for a top-level North American pro sports team when he made his L.A. debut on May 27.
While that milestone made headlines, the Fire's acquisition of Magee paid immediate dividends. He has scored eight goals in 10 league games with Chicago, including each one in each of his last three games.
The Fire are undefeated over that stretch with two wins and a draw, including a 2-1 win in Philadelphia.
Chicago is coming off the U.S. Open Cup loss though, and midfielder Logan Pause is not putting a lot of stock into the Impact's recent MLS struggles.
"They're a dangerous team," Pause said. "They won the Canadian championship and they're playing in CONCACAF. They're a good team from Di Vaio all the way down.
"They've got a lot of experience, a lot of seasoned veterans and we're looking to pay them back after a tough result we faced in Montreal earlier in the year. And of course they're a conference opponent that we're trying to catch in the table."