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Attitude, aptitude big factors in Fire’s rebound

TORONTO CANADA - MARCH 30:  Mike Magee #18 Los Angeles Galaxy shows his excitement after scoring with teammate Marcelo

TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 30: Mike Magee #18 of the Los Angeles Galaxy shows his excitement after scoring with teammate Marcelo Sarvas #8 in an MLS game against the Toronto FC on March 30, 2013 at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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Updated: August 2, 2013 7:00AM

When the Fire was struggling at the beginning of the season, coach Frank Klopas could have made wholesale changes to a team that was underperforming.

But instead of panicking and threatening his team, Klopas — whose hallmark has been his ability to tap players’ potential — was subtle in his approach.

Ownership, personnel executives and Klopas brought in center back Bakary Soumare and striker Mike Magee, who certainly have helped vault the Fire (5-7-3) into playoff contention in Major League Soccer. But both players also were acquired because of their dominant personalities.

Realizing the newcomers would demand the team raise its level of play, Klopas allowed the players to work through their struggles on their own. The result? The Fire hasn’t lost since May 18 and has
advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.

‘‘We seem to have done better when new guys were introduced to the team,’’ midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. ‘‘I think that they’re bringing in quality guys and ones that elevate their game. Guys that they bring in on the team just help elevate everyone’s game . . . because they’ve been there and they are winners.’’

Of course, tactical changes were made. But those were subtle.

The Fire started the season playing a 4-5-1, with two holding midfielders and the attacking midfielder highest up the field playing in the vein of a withdrawn striker. In May, though, Klopas reverted back to a traditional 4-4-2. While the Fire is likely to use two holding midfielders again, the timing of the change seemed to stimulate its creativity on offense.

‘‘It was just the right timing,’’ Nyarko said. ‘‘At some point in the season, I think we will see two holding guys again just because of the teams that we are going to play. We are privileged to have a number of midfielders that we can move around and play a couple of different formations, and we’re lucky at this point that all of them are in good form and all of them are playing well.’’

Offensively, the Fire is finishing chances it was failing even to put on net at the beginning of the season.

‘‘As a team, we’re in a groove, and I think it’s working,’’ midfielder Dilly Duka said. ‘‘It’s working now where it wasn’t at the beginning of the season. We’re finishing in the final third, we’re defending in the last third and we’re completing more passes.’’

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