With playoffs in limbo, Fire turn up heat

Practices become less forgiving as margin for error decreases

Freddie Ljungberg, Sean Johnson, John Thorrington, and Collins John stuck around after practice on Wednesday, four players talking tactics for a Chicago Fire team suddenly tense with realization that missing the postseason is a very real possibility.

This is how it’s been all week at Toyota Park. The mood has changed here in the shadow of Toyota Park, where the Fire sit seven points behind Seattle for the eighth and final playoff spot.  The mood’s been unforgiving.  Mistakes can’t be tolerated anymore and any misunderstandings have to be talked through either during or – as was the case on Wednesday – after practice. 

“People are obviously not happy with the results we’re getting so everybody’s kind of on edge,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com.  “We’re not afraid to talk to each other about making something right.  If we talk about it now, if somebody gets upset or somebody feels a certain way we’ll come to an agreement and we’ll sort it out here instead of in the games.”

While the Fire's concentrated attitude has to be encouraging for Chicago fans, it does make one wonder – Johnson, in this case – why this intense mood didn’t surface weeks ago. 

“I hate that we’ve just now started having the fiery attitude,” Johnson said. “I think that it should be the mentality for the whole season, not just one week.  I think we’ve kind of gotten tested, we’ve been there but we haven’t really gone full out in having discussions amongst players about what’s going on until now.”

The Fire face  Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, the first of an eight-game stretch to end the regular season.  Chicago understand that it will be tough coming out of Rio Tinto Stadium with a result, but – if nothing else – they believe that at least their newfound passion is a refreshing way to face an uncertain future.

“It’s not too late in the season to make a run,” Johnson said.  “The way we’re training now, the way we’re fired up, it’s all positive.  I think it’s all good going into Saturday and we’re looking for three points.”

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