Fire seeks spoils that go with two more victories
BY SETH GRUEN For Sun-Times Media October 13, 2012 12:34AM
Captain Logan Pause says all the Fire can do is try to win its last two regular-season games. | David Banks~Getty Images
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:39AM
It would have been natural for the Fire to feel relieved last weekend when it clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs for the first time in two years.
Instead, the weekend did nothing to change the feisty mentality that coach Frank Klopas has ingrained. Making the playoffs was one of the preseason goals, but alone, it won’t satisfy the Fire, which is currently second in the Eastern Conference and eyes the top seed.
‘‘We’re going to concentrate more on that,’’ midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. ‘‘But it definitely is good that we are in.
‘‘[Watching the playoffs the last two years] has been frustrating. I know that when they mention the Chicago Fire, we should be a perennial playoff team.’’
Klopas gave the team three days off beginning Friday. The Fire will return to training Monday in preparation for its game in New England next Saturday.
A win in either of the next two games would clinch the Fire a top-three spot, avoiding the play-in game between the fourth- and fifth-place teams.
The Fire is three points behind Sporting Kansas City with two games to play. However, the Fire holds the tiebreaker of total goals scored. So if the Fire wins out, it can overtake the top spot with a Sporting loss. That would mean home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs in the two-game aggregate-goals playoff system, which allows the higher seed to host the second game should the series necessitate overtime. What’s even more beneficial is that the top team plays the winner of the single-elimination play-in game. That team will be playing on short rest.
‘‘We can’t worry about what other teams are doing,’’ captain and midfielder Logan Pause said. ‘‘If you look at it, yes, we need to win, and we need help from them [Sporting] to catch them. But I think our focus is on getting points in New England . . . and the following weekend get a win at home.”
Pause is right in that, at this point, all the Fire can do is win its remaining games. But considering the stakes, the Fire could pressure higher up the field and push for goals as it tries to win these pivotal final two games.
Nyarko said the Fire will go into the two games with several different formation options — some more offensive than others. But that’s not different from previous game plans.
Klopas has always maintained a defense-first mentality that calls on the team to preserve its compact shape and cohesively move up the field, as opposed to taking chances like other MLS teams. Klopas wouldn’t say whether he plans to play more offensively through the end of the regular season, but he was firm that he expects his players to stick to the principles and philosophy that got them to this point.
‘‘We always have to play with discipline every game,’’ he said. ‘‘A team that’s in the position where you know you have a spot [in the playoffs], it doesn’t take away responsibility. You have to play with responsibility and discipline every game.’’