Coming on the heels of Friday’s dominant 2-0 win over the Fire’s regional rival, the Columbus Crew came the cold, harsh reality of a long offseason.
Reality: San Jose 2, DC United 0 and Colorado 2, FC Dallas 2 on Saturday night.
The results served as the final nail in the coffin for the club’s 2010 playoff fate – one which the team has faced just once before in 2004. The two matches served as the anticlimax to an impressive Fire win on the club’s 13th birthday just one night earlier.
With three regular season matches left, there are still things for the Fire to play for according to veteran defender CJ Brown.
“You’re always trying to get better,” said the Fire Original following Monday’s training session. “You’re always trying to prove to the coach that you want to be here and you’re looking to next year, showing that you have pride in this team. Everything is still on the board to try to perform the right way and you want to show your fans that you’re still fighting for them too because they’ve been out here fighting for you.”
With Kansas City’s playoff hopes hanging by a thread, Brown echoed that part of the club’s mission Tuesday night is to play spoiler to the Wizards, who find themselves in the same position the Fire were on Friday: needing to win their final three games while hoping for Colorado to drop their remaining games. A Fire win or draw will make Kansas City the last side eliminated from the 2010 MLS Cup playoff race. For the Wizards, there is literally no room for error.
“You always want to be the spoiler and knock other teams out. Points for us right now obviously don’t matter – it’s more about trying to get the game right. Maybe it’s an opportunity for guys that haven’t played much to show what they can do now – showing that you’re worth it. As we go into next season, the coaches have to evaluate and figure out if guys are worth it.”
One player that will most certainly see playing time Tuesday night is Brown’s understudy on the backline, rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Having played sparingly for most of the season, the club’s 2010 second round draft pick has appeared in the side’s last four matches, starting three and coming on early for an injured Dasan Robinson in Friday’s 2-0 win over Columbus.
“CJ will play with Kwame tomorrow night,” said Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos Monday. “I think Kwame is playing well. He’s a young player -- he’s taking time to develop and gaining experience playing. He’s paired well with CJ and they had a good performance on Saturday.”
De los Cobos also mentioned Monday that this year’s first round draft pick, attacking midfielder Corben Bone, could earn his first career MLS start Tuesday and his first minutes since the club’s 1-0 loss to Philadelphia on September 11.
Asked about the possibility of Home Grown player, 17-year-old Victor Pineda, de los Cobos wasn’t sure if he’d see time in the club’s remaining matches this season.
“Victor’s a very young player. We need to analyze if it’s necessary to give him some minutes to play. It’s something we’d like to do. I think that his position is very similar to Corben’s and Corben is the more experienced player. Maybe we can use Victor in one of our last matches.”
Make no bones about it. From the beginning it was known that this season would be the most difficult for all MLS teams to make the playoffs. With the addition of Philadelphia, the league saw it’s numbers rise to 16 teams, meaning for the first time in 15 seasons, half of it’s clubs would not make the postseason. Unless MLS changes it’s playoff format, things will only get more difficult next season as Portland and Vancouver make the jump and Montreal joins up in 2012.
Aside from playing spoiler Tuesday night, with three matches remaining there are still a few targets that this team should look to hit. With 32 points, the Fire are one point under the franchise low point total of 33, attained in 2004. With Tuesday’s match against the Wizards, as well as their final two games against DC United and Chivas USA, the side should be able to beat that total. If the Fire take the maximum nine points from their remaining three games, they can also beat the 2007 point total of 40, which at the time, was enough for the team to make the playoffs.
Having passed Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings with Friday’s win, the Fire are just one point back of Kansas City and can leap frog their opponents into third place with a win Tuesday night. Again with the team’s remaining opponents, a strong finish would have to be one where the Fire finish third in the Eastern Conference.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.