BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Fire winger Patrick Nyarko didn’t call Wednesday’s match against Toronto FC a “must-win,” but he came pretty close.
“We need to come out and win the game,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “It’s crunch time right now. We need every point we can get.”
Unfortunately for Nyarko and his Fire teammates, Chicago didn’t get a win Wednesday.
Instead, they played their Canadian rivals to a relatively nondescript 0-0 home draw, failing to take advantage of a good opportunity to creep closer to that elusive eighth and final playoff spot in the process.
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“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Nyarko said after Wednesday's match. “A tie is not a great result. We didn’t lose the game, we got a point, and every point counts, but we feel like it’s a game we could have – and should have – won.”
And the Fire may very well have won had they taken their chances.
Freddie Ljungberg had a gilt-edged opportunity to put his team ahead early in the second half. Fellow DP Nery Castillo played Ljungberg behind the Toronto back four with a nifty through-ball, leaving him with only 'keeper Stefan Frei to beat.
Ljungberg, who was not available for comment after the match, inexplicably missed the target, trickling his shot wide of the right post.
The Swede’s miss overshadowed a fine defensive performance from the Fire. Chicago shut Toronto down, disrupting the Reds with some tight marking and limiting them to a measly three shots on goal.
[inline_node:317920]“I think our defense stepped it up,” Nyarko said. “The back four played very well, and we controlled most of the game.”
One defender who stood out was Dasan Robinson. Usually a right back, Robinson started ahead of Wilman Conde in the center and was effective, winning balls both in the air and on the ground, all while marking Toronto’s forwards tightly throughout the match.
“Dasan played a very complete game,” Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. “He was very solid, concentrated and good with his marking. I’m really happy with his performance.”
Castillo also earned de los Cobos’ praises. The Mexican DP, who has struggled with fitness since debuting on August 8, was active in the attack, distributing nicely and dribbling dangerously throughout.
“He had a good game,” de los Cobos said. “I’m very happy for him. Little by little he is playing with the level that he used to have. He’s [getting fitter], too, and that’s going to help him.”
Castillo looked particularly sharp after Ljungberg was taken off in the 76th minute. Castillo moved from the left wing to Ljungberg’s supporting striker role and he took full advantage of the switch, playing his most effective soccer in the match’s final 15 minutes.
But those individual bright spots won’t mean anything if Chicago miss the playoffs. With only nine games to go, the 11th-place Fire now sit six points behind Seattle for the last playoff spot. They’re one point behind Kansas City for 10th place and two behind Toronto for ninth.
That all means that Saturday’s match at Philadelphia really is a must-win for Chicago, who hold a slight advantage in games played. The Fire have played 21 matches, which is tied with San Jose for fewest in the league.
“We’ve got nine games left, and we have to have the attitude that we have to win all nine,” Fire 'keeper Sean Johnson said. “We’re on the road at Philly, so I think it’s going to be more difficult, but I think we’re definitely capable of getting three points.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.