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Fire faces ‘must-win’ game, tough challenge against Red Bulls

Michael de Leeuw, left, challenges Toronto FC's Drew Moor during second-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto earlier this month. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The disparity between the Fire playing at home and on the road has been documented by their MLS-record 35-game road losing streak.

So if there is any comfort in -facing the New York Red Bulls, whom Fire coach Veljko Paunovic ranks among the league’s top teams, it lies in the fact that the match Sunday will be played at home.

Even so, Paunovic admits his team’s attempt to improve its 4-2-3 home record will be a challenge. The Red Bulls are coming off a 4-1 win over first-place New York City FC, but they’ve struggled on the road, going 1-7-3.

For Paunovic, that spells opportunity.

“Every game is a test, but this game especially,” Paunovic said Wednesday. “The timing for us is now. It’s a must-win game.”

The Fire haven’t lost at home since April 16. Despite the team’s struggles on the road, Paunovic has seen his players move closer to where they need to be competitively. The addition of midfielder Michael de Leeuw has improved the Fire offensively. And with the team being as close to full strength health-wise as it has been all season, Paunovic believes a strong showing against the Red Bulls could move the Fire in the right direction.

Paunovic declined to address whether the Fire would make any roster moves before the summer transfer window closes next week. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the club could be looking to add more international talent after signing de Leeuw. Paunovic said the club wouldn’t address any personnel issues until after a move had been officially made.

In the meantime, Paunovic will focus on the immediate challenge of preparing for the Red Bulls, who will provide the Fire with a measuring stick of where they stand in their quest to move closer to playoff berth.

“This is a game that we’re all looking [forward to]. It’s going to be a Champions League game for us at least,” Paunovic said. “We look forward to learning a lot, and we have to push further ourselves if we want to win the game.

“We really want to win this game because it’s important for us to stay strong at home and it’s important for our fans to see that we can compete against the best teams in the league.”

Wolves round out staff

New Wolves coach Craig Berube added two assistants to his staff this week.

The Wolves hired former Minnesota Wild assistant Darryl Sydor, who won Stanley Cup titles as a defenseman with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Sydor worked as an assistant for the Wild for the last five seasons after beginning his coaching career with the AHL’s Houston Aeros in 2010.

The Wolves also hired Daniel Tkaczuk, who has worked as an assistant in the Ontario Hockey League for the last four seasons. The former No. 6 overall pick by the Calgary Flames played 19 games in the NHL and appeared in 256 AHL games.

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