Not giving up

Fire disappointed, but maintain hope for playoffs


The Chicago Fire’s fading playoff hopes may have suffered a knockout blow Saturday night, when they fell to thePhiladelphia Union 1-0 at PPL Park.

Philadelphia winger Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 36th minute, and despite pressing the game, the Fire couldn’t find an equalizer. Chicago now sit six points behind the final playoff spot with only eight games to play.

“We’re disappointed to drop all the points,” Fire winger Patrick Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We were for some points to take back but it happens and unfortunately it happened to us today. Everyone’s disappointed.”

The Fire, who were playing their third game in the last seven days, had a dreadful first half. The opening 45 minutes were marked by an inability to string together passes, sloppy defense, and several miscommunications in front of their own net. It wasn’t the performance of a team in desperate need of three points, and Le Toux’s well-worked goal seemed a fitting punishment.

“I think we came out flat,” Nyarko said. “Maybe we weren’t fresh but we really don’t want to give excuses. We just came out flat, we didn’t execute, and we didn’t pick up runners.”

Coach Carlos de los Cobos made several halftime adjustments. Winger Calen Carr came on for central midfielder Baggio Husidic, pushing Freddie Ljungberg—who had been playing as a supporting striker—into a deeper-lying role in the midfield and moving Nery Castillo to forward.

The changes sparked the Fire. The solid linking play of Ljungberg gave them more possession and the insertion of Mike Banner in the 57th minute, replacing the largely ineffective Collins John and pushing Carr up to striker, only made things better. The Chicago attack suddenly looked vibrant, creating several good opportunities in the final third.

“In the second half everyone showed up,” Nyarko said. “We kept the ball and created chances. We just need to do that for 90 minutes instead of just 45 minutes.”

Chicago’s best chance came in the 76th minute. Defender Steven Kinney hit a right wing cross to Banner at the back post. Banner deftly redirected the ball across the face of the goal, finding an unmarked Carr in the six-yard box; however, the ball came a little too quickly for Carr, and his header went over the bar.

Philadelphia killed the game off after Carr’s miss, extending Chicago’s winless streak to five games. Despite their cold streak – and their long odds – the Fire haven’t given up hope just yet.

“One thing that everyone should know is that we haven’t given up on our playoff chances,” Nyarko said. “We feel like every game we go into we can try and get points. It’s going to be tough but no one said it was going to be easy. We got to keep fighting until we achieve our goals.”

Achieving those goals becomes even more difficult next week, when the Fire travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Supporters’ Shield contenders Real Salt Lake. Chicago probably need at least a point against RSL, no easy task considering RSL’s gaudy home record.

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.