Competition: Major League Soccer – Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC
Venue: Toyota Park – Sunday, March 6 – 14:00 ET (19:00 GMT – Live on Sky Sports 1)
Match Odds: Chicago 11/10 – Draw 12/5 – NYCFC 12/5
Both teams endured tough campaigns last year and will be hoping that managerial changes can inspire a change of fortunes in 2016.
Chicago have brought in Veljko Paunovic as their new man and the former Serbia U20 coach will hope his high-pressing style of play can prove effective from the first kick.
He has watched his Fire side enjoy an excellent preseason campaign, as they went unbeaten through six matches (W5 D1), and the focus will now be on transferring that form into the new MLS season.
A home opener will boost their chances of starting on the right foot, but NYCFC will arrive with high expectations of their own under new coach Patrick Vieira.
New York City finished in eighth place in their inaugural season last year and will hope to improve from their experiences in the league.
They will see a trip to Chicago as a winnable fixture but there is a real sense of the unknown surrounding both sides, as things could either improve dramatically, or remain poor.
NYCFC also enjoyed a solid preseason campaign, winning five of their six games and losing just once, so this is perfectly poised.
The corresponding fixture last term saw Chicago run out 1-0 winners before the pair played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium.
Chicago Fire have three injury concerns heading into opening weekend. Eric Gehrig is ruled out with an ongoing foot injury, while David Accam and Matt Polster are both listed as questionable. Draft pick Brandon Vincent should make his professional debut at left-back.
New York City also have a few injury worries heading into their 2016 opener. Connor Brandt and No.1 draft pick Jack Harrison are both ruled out, while Frank Lampard looks set to miss this one as he is struggling with a calf problem. The English midfielder remains doubtful along with Jefferson Mena and RJ Allen.
Chicago Fire’s preseason form: W/W/D/W/W/W
NYCFC’s preseason form: W/W/W/W/L/W
Key Stat: NYCFC have only won one of their last eight away games in MLS.
Key Player: Gilberto – The Brazilian forward hasn’t always been the most reliable striker during his time in MLS, but he enters 2016 off the back of a good preseason campaign and will hope to fire Chicago to victory in an important season opener on Sunday. A goal for him in the opening game could set the tone for a productive season.
Chicago Fire 1-1 NYCFC – This is expected to be one of the tightest games on the opening weekend of the new season. Both sides have impressed during preseason and will look to get off to the perfect start in what is a key Eastern Conference clash. However, they are likely to cancel each other out and so a score draw looks set to unfold.