Walking out on the field in Foxbrough, Mass. Saturday, the Fire’s Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald got his first taste of what soccer can sometimes still be like in the United States playing on the somewhat distracting gridiron lines at Gillette Stadium.
The Fire’s game at New England that night came in a perfect scheduling storm, smudged between a UMass football game earlier in the afternoon and a Patriots NFL game the following day. With so little turnaround time between the three events, the football markers stood out much more than the yellow lines put down for the night’s soccer match.
“For me, getting used to all the markings was crazy,” said MacDonald Wednesday. “You are trying to stay onside and it got confusing with all those lines.”
Perhaps displaying how far the league has come since the early years when so many teams, including the Fire, had to deal week-in and week out with gridiron markings, fans, took to Twitter early in the match to register their displeasure with the visual display.
Even still, MacDonald made sure to emphasize that while the conditions were difficult to adjust to, it wasn’t the reason the team came away from New England empty-handed.
“It was very difficult for me because these circumstances are very new but I don’t want use that as an excuse. We tried to break through and find the open man. I think we did a good job of keeping our shape in the back. For me it should have been a 0-0 match, because they had only one shot all game but on both sides we didn’t produce and that’s what happens sometimes.”
Though only a week’s time between the game at Gillette and the regular season finale against D.C., the team’s desire to put their performance in the past as well as gain redemption from August’s difficult 4-2 loss at RFK has made MacDonald anxious for Saturday.
“It’s only Wednesday and it’s already felt very long,” he said. “Everyone is excited to play a very important game. We remember the game there in August and it’s still very fresh in my mind. The last time we were in D.C. they were very sharp and aggressive. We’ve wiped the slate clean we feel ready for Saturday.”
The implications for this weekend’s match are well laid out – a Fire win and the team clinches second place in the East and home-field advantage in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. A loss or a draw and the team will at best be third and could fall all the way to fifth and an away match in the East’s knockout game depending on other results in Philadelphia and Colorado that day.
“We definitely need points from this game but we are trying to keep the guys relaxed. It is going to be difficult but I don’t think we need to put too much pressure. We just need to be ourselves. We are very strong at home.”
Buoyed by all the scenarios and a near sell-out crowd, Saturday’s game should provide an excellent precursor to what an MLS playoff match would once again feel like.
However, at the club’s recent 15th Anniversary event head coach Frank Klopas laid down a challenge to the Fire fan base that doesn’t always get into Toyota Park by kickoff: “Get in early on October 27.”
“Frank is completely right,” said MacDonald. “To see a full stadium coming out for warm ups is something else. Toyota Park needs to be full from the start especially since it is the last regular season match. Some people may think that it is not important to us but for us to come out on to the field and feel the ambiance is special.”
The Gaffer and the Dutchman have said it. Put down your drinks and beer brats 30 minutes earlier than usual. Saturday’s game is regular season in name only.