Urgency sets in as Fire head to Philly

Lagging down the stretch, points now a priority for Chicago

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire need to make up ground, and they need to make it up fast. 

Sitting in 11th place and six points behind San Jose for the eighth and final playoff spot, Chicago feel they need to win Saturday’s match at Philadelphia to have any chance of qualifying for the postseason.

“We’re now at a point in the year that we can’t keep letting these games slip away from us,” Fire midfielder Logan Pause told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “We need three points.”

The Fire met the Union once this season, beating the expansion side 2-1 in a hard-fought match June 5 at Toyota Park. 

“They’re a very willing team,” Fire forward Brian McBride told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “[Manager] Peter Nowak’s got them working extremely hard for each other. Out of the teams that we’ve played, they’re probably right up there with the hardest-working. They definitely play hard from the beginning to the end. We have to be prepared for that, we can’t have mental lapses or switch off.”

If the Fire are to win this weekend, they’ll need to finish better than they did in Wednesday’s scoreless draw with Toronto FC. The team missed several good opportunities against TFC, none more notable than Freddie Ljungberg’s blown one-on-one chance with Toronto keeper Stefan Frei in the 48th minute.

Ljungberg and fellow Designated Player Nery Castillo switched positions throughout Wednesday’s match, with each player spending time at supporting striker and on the wing. Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said he expects to use that same ploy against the Union.

“Maybe we’ll use them like we did [Wednesday],” de los Cobos said. “I am trying to find the best shape for us. But the most important thing is that they are trying to play together and trying to have a connection. These two guys need to connect [on Saturday].”

Players who might not be connecting on Saturday are midfielders Marco Pappa and John Thorrington. 

Pappa picked up a toe injury while on international duty with Guatemala last week. Thorrington, who made his season debut on August 28 at Seattle, had to be removed at halftime of Wednesday night’s match due to leg cramps. De los Cobos, who said Thursday that he was unsure about the status of either player for Saturday’s match, was not available for comment on Friday.

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