Dan Kelly Blog

Fire look to play to potential against Seattle

It’s time for the Chicago Fire to go on a run or start
auditioning for next season, because they’ve nearly buried themselves and they
need help. Ten points is the difference between the Fire and Saturday’s
opponents Seattle Sounders FC who happen to hold the league’s final playoff spot
– making up those points seems a task that is almost insurmountable. 

Here are some things to watch out for in Saturday’s all
important match with Seattle:

First, the Sounders come to Chicago, from Monterrey, Mexico,
where a team compiled almost completely of reserves lost 3-2 Wednesday night in
the CONCACAF Champions League. 
They almost won the match, but coughed up 3 unanswered goals in the
losing effort. 

The real Seattle Sounders FC were in full force last
Saturday night as they throttled the Columbus Crew 4-0 in Ohio’s capital
city.  It was a night of firsts for
Seattle.  Retired Swiss
international Blaise Nkufo tallied his first goal with his new club and added
two more later in the match, picking up the first-ever hat trick in Seattle’s
MLS existence. The team’s four goals were a club record and the result also
stood as the Sounders’ largest margin of victory in their two-year MLS run.

The Sounders now have momentum, the road win was their first
since July 31, and the offense was flowing freely against Columbus.  They look loose, like they are having
fun and its working.  Steve Zakuani
is a danger with his speed and service – he looks to be developing chemistry
with MLS Player of the Week, Nkufo, and the tandem could cause some sleepless
nights for Fire defenders. Goalless in his first five MLS matches, folks
wondered about the newly signed Sounders Designated Player.  Well, Nkufo has answered and the seal
was blown off with dynamite. Attributing his slow start to getting acclimated
to the Seattle turf, he should be comfortable on the grass at Toyota Park.

Veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller earned the clean sheet
against Columbus making five stops, in his 50th consecutive MLS appearance,
serving as a calming presence for the Seattle side. 

For Chicago Fire, start playing up to your potential.  The pressure should be subsiding,
because the playoff goal is so far off in the distance.  This is a skilled group, with some
depth.  With so many new faces,
this is almost like preseason for Chicago.  They are learning about their new teammates tendencies and
skill sets on the fly. It still can’t be used as an excuse. 

Frank Klopas and Fire ownership didn’t exactly go shopping for
used cars when they made their midseason moves.  It’s time for Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo to step up
and be noticed.  Fire fans have
been waiting for a breakout performance from one of these two, as we have been
treated to several glimpses of their natural talent, especially Ljungberg.  Talk about a match that means something
to the stylish Swede.  His old team
shut him down in his return to Qwest Field last month and to rub salt in the
wound, Seattle’s dramatic turnaround has coincided with his departure as the
Fire sit mired in a six- match winless drought, and this high powered offense
has tapered, going goalless in the last three games.  Its time for the leaders to lead, and show the rest how its
done.

Training has been solid this week, and according to a couple Fire
players, a little edge has been present, as the sense of desperation is
maximizing the effort.  On the good
side, this club fought hard in the second half in their 1-0 loss at Salt
Lake.   The defense did a
pretty good job limiting RSL’s chances, but scoring goals is the big problem
right now.  The general consensus
seems to be that attackers are in good positions, they are just missing that
big money play, with a finish or pass.   Scoring first would be a big help, as the confidence
is a little fragile with the frugal production.   

Finally, stop letting the officials become a
distraction.  In stark contrast to
RSL, Chicago seemed to be burning a lot of oxygen in the mountain air, barking
at officials. Its harder then it sounds, because at least the Men in Red are
showing passion, they just need to direct it better.  Chicago Fire has the talent assembled, to do the unthinkable
and make a historic run into the playoffs but they better show it from first
kick this Saturday night, no more slip ups, or this seasons playoff hopes will
slide away.