Remarkably, Fire nearing playoff berth
BY LEN ZIEHM Special to Sun-Times Media September 30, 2011 10:08PM
Marco Pappa (bottom) celebrates his third goal of the game Wednesday against Real Salt Lake. | George Frey~Getty Images
Updated: November 15, 2011 9:14AM
After winning twice in the first 24 games, the Fire seemed to have no chance of making the Major League Soccer playoffs.
But with victories in five of the last six games, the playoffs are a distinct possibility. The Fire (7-8-15) enters its road match Saturday against the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12) with 36 points, three shy of the New York Red Bulls for the 10th and final playoff berth.
The Fire has four games to jump into the top 10, and no match was more reflective of the club’s gigantic improvement than its 3-0 victory Wednesday at Real Salt Lake.
‘‘A great win against a very good team in a very difficult place to play,’’ said Fire interim coach Frank Klopas. ‘‘Our composure was great. We had a 3-0 lead [against the New England Revolution in a 3-2 victory Sunday at Toyota Park] and gave up some late goals.’’
That didn’t happen at Salt Lake. The Fire scored in the first 20 minutes for the sixth time in the last eight matches. Marco Pappa’s three goals were more than enough to keep the Fire’s momentum going. Pappa became the fifth Fire player to score three in a game, joining Chris Rolfe, Ante Razov, Damani Ralph and Nate Jaqua.
‘‘Each game is a playoff for us now,’’ Pappa said. ‘‘We’re still alive, and we need to get points. We know the next game is going to be hard.’’
It also will be special for striker Dominic Oduro, whom the Dynamo traded after the first game of the season. Oduro, stunned by the trade, responded by scoring 11 goals for the Fire. This will be his first match in Houston against his former team. The clubs played to a 1-1 draw on April 25 at Toyota Park.
Klopas is hoping for the return of Sebastian Grazzini to the lineup. The midfielder, who has four goals and four assists since coming to the Fire at midseason, didn’t play at Salt Lake because of tightness in his right hamstring. Daniel Paladini filled in.
‘‘Sometimes it’s Marco, sometimes Grazzini, sometimes Dominic,’’ midfielder Pavel Pardo said, another helpful late-season acquisition. ‘‘Now we’re playing better and better.’’