The gauntlet was laid down by other teams in the Eastern Conference Saturday night. Tonight's game against Houston (LIVE at 5:30pm on NBC 5.2; 6pm on Galavision and 97.5 FM) can push the Men in Red back above the East dog fight or put the team right in the thick of it. Five things to consider before heading to Toyota Park...
1) Last Night’s Results
Things didn’t exactly go the Fire’s way in the MLS Eastern Conference playoff race last night, though there was a point that it looked good.
Montreal took a 1-0 lead at Columbus through Marco Di Vaio’s 73rd minute goal but the home-standing Crew equalized through Chad Marshall seven minutes later. For the second game in a row though, the Crew took advantage of five minutes of stoppage time to see Emilio Renteria bag the winner.
Newly signed Designated Player Federico Higuain assisted on both strikes, taking his haul to three goals and six assists in just five matches since joining the side.
Further west, Montreal’s Canadian brethren Toronto FC had a similar 1-0 lead at Sporting KC with them into the locker room at halftime but similarly, second half goals from Paolo Nagamura and newly-signed midfielder Oriol Rosell gave Sporting KC the three points.
Just a bit further west, the Fire got some help from club alumnus Will Johnson as his 49th minute strike helped RSL defeat D.C. United 1-0 at Rio Tinto.
With all of last night’s results, the Fire sit just outside the tight playoff bubble heading into Sunday’s night’s match. It goes without saying that a win against Houston is key, but earning three points tonight would push the team into third place in the East, two points behind second-place Red Bull with a game in hand.
2) Logan Pause in the 18?
The Fire received a boost this week as captain Logan Pause returned to the training field just 16 days after breaking two ribs and suffering a partially collapsed lung in a 3-1 at Philadelphia on August 12. Pause trained all but one day this but wouldn’t put a timetable on his return to the field (the original estimate was four-to-six weeks).
With the Fire having transferred Marco Pappa to Heerenveen on Thursday, the team has only 26 players on its active roster. Considering injuries to the likes of Cory Gibbs, Steven Kinney and a minor knock to Michael Videira, Frank Klopas’ choices shrink considerably.
Though earlier this week he admitted some things were still painful, it wouldn’t completely shock me to see Pause be included in Klopas’ 18-man squad Sunday night.
3) Houston’s Recent Schedule
The Fire may be catching Houston just at the right time. While the Men in Red will be putting to end one of their longest breaks of the season (10 days), Sunday night’s match marks the fifth game in 15 days for the Dynamo.
WATCH: Matko's Take on Houston
Managing fatigue, Dominic Kinnear’s used about half his regular starting squad to earn a 1-1 draw Thursday night at Honduran side Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League play. The team returned to Houston Friday and flew to Chicago Saturday.
More evidence to catching the Dynamo at the right time? Houston is winless in its last three league matches (0-1-2), are just 1-3-1 in their last five away games and 3-6-4 overall away from BBVA Compass Stadium.
That away record isn’t horrible but consider aside from their 2-0 win at league cellar dwellers Toronto FC on July 28, Houston hasn’t won away from home since the first two weeks of the season.
4) Sega Approaching a Milestone
With an appearance in tonight’s game, Fire defender Gonzalo Segares will move past Diego Gutierrez into seventh on the club’s all-time competitive appearance list with 198 games played.
If things go according to plan, Segares will become join names like Brown, Pause, Thornton, Armas, Marsch and Mapp as the seventh player in club history to play in 200 competitive matches on September 22 vs. Columbus.
On Thursday’s All-In Podcast, I asked Sega (who turns 30 next month) if Chicago is a place he’d like to close out his career. His response:
“Yeah definitely. It’s a place where I was given my first chance to become a professional. I’ve been here a long time now, this is my eighth season, if I get the opportunity I would love to stay here.”
Get your banners ready…
5) Speaking of Banners…
A flag is sort of a banner… right?
Nice shot from Getty Images photographer Kyle Rivas below, showing Paolo Nagumura celebrate his 60th minute equalizer in Sporting KC’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC Saturday night. Nicer to see Sporting supporters waving flags on poles in the background…