Game at Dallas has huge playoff implications for Fire
BY PATRICK Z. MCGAVIN For Sun-Times Media October 11, 2013 10:04PM
Chicago Fire v Houston Dynamo
Updated: November 13, 2013 6:09AM
The Fire has rarely been in a position to gloat this year, but coming off a vitally important 3-0 road victory over D.C. United, the team could at least breathe a sigh of relief.
The team (12-12-7, 43 points) jumped two spots in the scrambled Eastern Conference, moving to sixth place. With three regular-season games remaining, the Fire remains two points behind the Philadelphia Union for the final playoff slot.
Just five points separate the five teams toggling between fourth and eighth in the East.
Encouragingly, the Fire saw players other than star forward Mike Magee step up offensively. Captain Jeff Larentowicz scored his first goal since April to stake the Fire to the 1-0 lead. Bakary Soumare recorded his first MLS goal and Quincy Amarikwa posted just his second goal of the year.
Yet, the score was misleading. Keeper Sean Johnson registered a season-best eight saves as the Fire, employing an aggressive pressing attack, found itself continually on its heels defensively.
“We have to get back and do what we do best, tighten up [defensively] and create turnovers off our pressure,” forward Patrick Nyarko said.
The Fire now moves to a crucial stage in its next two games, beginning with its first meeting of the season against FC Dallas and its final home game next week against Toronto FC. The Fire wants to avoid a must-win situation against the East-leading New York Red Bulls on Oct. 27.
Historically the Fire has struggled mightily in Texas, going just 3-12-2. The Fire is catching a skidding Dallas team (10-10-11, 41 points) that has won just once in its last six.
Both teams are missing key personnel because of World Cup qualifying. The Fire is without Arévalo Ríos (Uruguay) and team assist-leader Joel Lindpere (Estonia) and Dallas doesn’t have Blas Perez (Panama), who leads the team with 11 goals.
Dallas is seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. That makes them a wounded beast, Nyarko said.
“They are probably out, but they still have an outside chance and that’s going to make them difficult,” he said.
In a year where the only predictable factor has been unpredictability, Fire players admit to the excitement of the playoff hunt.
“We can’t worry about other teams ahead of us,” Soumare said. “We just have to go out and take care of our business.”