BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It’s the Chicago Fire’s 13th birthday on Friday, and though the club is on the brink of missing the playoffs for just the second time in team history, their entrance into the teenage years couldn’t come at a more fitting time.
Why? Simply put, the Fire need a couple of gifts – make that a couple of big gifts – to stay in playoff contention beyond this weekend.
First on Chicago’s wish list is a home win Friday against the Columbus Crew. If they are able to take care of business, the Fire must hope that MLS cellar-dwellers D.C. United earn a result against the eighth-place San Jose Earthquakes Saturday night at RFK Stadium.
If either measure fails to go through, Chicago will miss the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
“We’ve got to win,” Fire defender C.J. Brown said. “Obviously things haven’t gone well this year, but you know the guys are still fighting the guys are still working.
“We’ve got to try to do what coach wants us to do which is play possession and move the ball around.”
[inline_node:314366]If the Fire are to win Friday, they’ll have to do so without starting 'keeper Sean Johnson. The Rookie of the Year candidate suffered an eye injury in training on Tuesday and will miss the match.
Backup 'keeper Andrew Dykstra – who started Chicago’s first 14 league matches – will get the start in his place.
“It’s just another game [for me],” Dykstra said. “Hopefully I’ve got a long career ahead of me so it’s just another opportunity to enjoy and perfect what I do on the field.”
One thing playing in the Fire’s favor is Columbus’ crowded schedule. Friday’s match will be the Crew’s fourth in 10 days.They last played on Tuesday night, falling 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup final at Qwest Field.
“Hopefully that [plays in our favor],” Dykstra said of the Crew’s quick turnaround. “It would be nice but I’m going to expect the best Columbus team out on Friday and prepare that way.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.