Lack of Playoff Experience Not a Problem for Young Fire Defenders
With the Fire having missed the postseason the past two years, a number of younger players on the squad will be getting their first MLS Cup playoff experience when they welcome the Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park Wednesday night.
Two of those players are Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry. While neither have played a professional postseason match both went to the NCAA College Cup with the University of North Carolina and Louisville respectively in 2010, giving them at least an idea of what’s on the line against the Dynamo.
“The stakes are high I’m pretty excited.” said Anibaba after training Monday. “You draw on all your previous experiences leading up to this game. The key is to not get too wrapped up in the pressure and approach it with the same diligence and understanding that you have in the past.”
MLS Rookie of the Year frontrunner Austin Berry echoed Anibaba’s excitement but played down Wednesday’s match just a tad.
“I’m treating this like any other game,” he said. “If you start thinking about it being a playoff game, you put more unnecessary pressure on yourself. Obviously there’s a lot more on the line but I’m not preparing any differently. I’m looking forward to playing and just being myself.”
With as tight as the Eastern Conference has been down the stretch, Berry also pointed to the high pressure games the team has played the past two months.
“We’ve talked a lot about how recent games have had more of a playoff atmosphere and pressure. We discussed how there’s a different energy and a different kind of way the game flows. There are less chances and mistakes stick out more. That’s all part of it.”
While the Fire won seven of eight during August and September, the team slipped up down the stretch, going 1-3-1 in their final five matches and pushing the side into Wednesday’s play-in game.
Despite that, Berry signaled Monday that he and the team have moved on.
“We can’t think about that. It’s unfortunate but we have to remember we accomplished one of the big goals that we set and that was to get into the playoffs. It’s just one extra game we have to play at the end of the season so everyone’s focused and confident looking ahead to Wednesday night.”