As the Chicago Fire prepare for Friday’s top-of-the-table clash at Sporting KC, one needs to look no further than some of the veterans on the squad to recognize what’s on the line this weekend.
A win Friday night would push the Fire to first place in the East for the first time since May 25, 2008. Perhaps more importantly, depending on what happens between Columbus and Philadelphia the next day, clinch the club’s first postseason berth since 2009.
HIGHLIGHTS: Fire 1, Sporting KC 0 (6/29/2012)
“In my book this is the biggest game of the year,” said Patrick Nyarko one of only four players that remains from the 2009 team. “Especially from the standpoint that we’ve played them twice already this season. For them, it’s not ordinary to lose twice to the same team so I think the fact that they’re playing at home is going to spur them on to try to get one on us.”
Nyarko refers to the Fire’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Sporting on May 12 at Toyota Park as well as a confidence boosting 1-0 win on June 29 at LiveStrong Sporting Park. Specifically it was the second game in the mid-summer Kansas heat that began to prove that the 2012 version of the Chicago Fire might be a force to be reckoned with.
“That game in June was big for us,” said Fire forward Chris Rolfe. “It showed us we can go to a difficult place, play against a tough team and still come away with a win. We defended hard that game, defending as a group was something we hadn’t been doing enough of prior to that match.”
The Fire took on a very defensive shape, picking the few opportunities they had to go forward while sustaining the pressure Sporting poured on. In the end, it was Rolfe that took advantage of one of the few chances the team had to go forward before laying off for Marco Pappa for the game’s only goal in the 58th minute.
“To get a counterattack and score off what was really our only chance – there are so many positives to be able to take from that.”
Still, a strong performance late from goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who made three of his five saves on the night in the 76th minute and beyond, is what held the result for the Men in Red.
Learning from that experience, Fire captain Logan Pause recognizes they might not be so lucky on Friday.
“Last game we dodged a few bullets towards the end,” said the 10-year Fire veteran. “We can’t just sit in and take the pressure from them. We need to minimize their chances and go in with a mentality and game plan of keeping the ball so that we’re not just on our heels defending.”