The Labor Day weekend featured the Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon September 3, 2010 for a match up against Western Conference leaders LA Galaxy. In what was an excellent showcase for the “MLS 2.0” edition (post World Cup and new signings) the teams battled into extra time and drew one all.
The result deprived a Fire team that played well with 10 men most of the game (red card to Segaras in the 20th minute) and with their star midfielder Freddie Ljungberg out from the start from three points at home. The Fire took the lead in the 88th minute only to see LA tie the game a minute later. Another packed house at Toyota Park left disappointed but not unsatisfied. The quality of play throughout the day was top notch and featured Fire rookie goal keeper Sean Johnson stop Landon Donovan on a penalty kick. A rare feat indeed.
For Fire fans the bottom line was the one point at home after two road defeats including a heartbreaking last minute defeat a week earlier to Seattle. No matter how much the Fire’s new additions have improved the team and the insertion of Sean Johnson in the net have helped the Fire, they are still far from a playoff spot with only 10 games remaining in this season. With the top two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference beyond the reach of Chicago it comes down to the Fire reaching 8th place in the overall league standings to qualify for the post-season. As we are well aware of from last season just making the playoffs is the important thing. The MLS title will be open to any of the final eight teams and home field advantage in the early rounds does not seem critical to a Fire team that historically has played well on the road.
Currently the Fire are in 11th place overall in the MLS table. They total 25 points and Toronto, Kansas City, and San Jose are all ahead of them in the playoff race. New England is only a point behind the Fire, and Houston is a point behind the Revs with 23 points. The Fire have the advantage of games in hand over most of the MLS field having played only 20 games on the season. Most notably San Jose however have only played 20 games. Games in hand only become an edge if you win them and nothing about the Fire’s ultimate performance the last few weeks would make wins expected.
Please Fire fans don’t get me wrong, but with only one point in the last 3 games we can expect nothing from this team no matter how improved. I have been greatly impressed by the improved quality of the Fire with the recent signings as well as the entire league since the new signings have come on board. Yet the bottom line for the Fire right now is winning games and making the playoffs and the likes of Castillo and Ljungberg have not made the bottom line look any better. Sellout crowds (at least on the weekends) come to see the home team win and that is just not happening. That does not mean I am discontented nor should other fans be. In fact I am ready to do the early renewal plan for my season tickets for next year and encourage all MLS fans to get their tickets early for the 2011 season which should be a memorable season with new teams in the league.
Taking each game one at a time is an old sports adage and clearly is true for the Fire. They have a must win home game this very week against Toronto. Three points have to be earned. This will be no easy feat with steady midfielder Marco Pappa not expected to play and defender Gonzalo Segares lost due to a red card in the Galaxy game. Freddie Ljungberg should be back to assume his midfield role and Nery Castillo appears finally to be ready to play a full game for the Fire after his late July signing. Sean Johnson continues to improve in goal and can certainly claim a confidence boost from his penalty kick stop on Landon Donovan. Having to win midweek and then travel to play the Union on the weekend is a tall order and the Fire have to fill it. It would be a shame if Brian McBride’s final season ended with his hometown team being on the sidelines come playoff time.