With the likes of Sporting KC, D.C. United and Columbus all taking wins at midweek and making the Eastern Conference playoff race much tighter, you’d think the Fire locker room would feel a little added pressure going into Saturday night’s home match against the Crew.
Despite the gap between the second place Fire and sixth place Crew at just five points, a quick survey of the locker room has the team less nervous and more anxious.
“It’s exciting,” Patrick Nyarko told Chicago-Fire.com Friday. “No one said this was going to be easy. Every game is important now and the best part is we’re playing a team that’s right there. With a victory, you separate yourselves from them.”
Nyarko’s point is well taken. Saturday’s game is pivotal not only to cause separation but for the potential that a victory Saturday and one next week at Sporting KC would put the team on the verge of playoff qualification, if not in the postseason depending on other results.
“We’re looking forward to the match,” agreed Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “Obviously it’s exciting that this late in the season it’s so tight -- that every match means so much. There’s a feeling that there’s a lot on the line. You wish that every game could be made this way in MLS.”
It’s a change of pace for the Eastern Conference to be so tight. Looking back on the past few seasons, it’s been the West that has come down to the wire. That’s not the case this year as Seattle, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake could all potentially clinch post season berths this weekend.
“I was watching the Seattle/Portland game last week and they said if Seattle won they would clinch a playoff berth,” Nyarko continued. “I was like, ‘We have more points than them.’ It’s definitely different this year.”
With the Fire still controllling their own destiny, Nyarko acknowledges the task at hand Saturday: three points will go a long way towards pushing the Fire to their first postseason appearance since 2009.
“We’re going to focus on us and we know we’re in a solid spot now. We need to keep doing what we’re doing to cement our place and hopefully we get a win Saturday to make it more convincing.”