BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It’s must-win time for the Chicago Fire.
Currently wallowing in 11th place – seven points behind Seattle for the eighth and final playoff spot – the Fire play their biggest game of the season Wednesday night when they host ninth-place Toronto FC at Toyota Park.
Fire players said Tuesday that anything less than a win against their Canadian rivals will be unacceptable.
“We need points and we need wins,” said defender C.J. Brown. “One point’s not good enough for us. We’re at home, so we need three.”
“It’s simple: we need to come out and win the game,” added winger Patrick Nyarko. “It’s crunch time right now [and] we need every point we can get.”
Wednesday’s meeting will be the second time the Fire face TFC this year. Chicago were blown out in their first matchup, losing 4-1 in May at BMO Field.
Toronto put the Fire on their heels in that match, scoring the first goal and taking advantage of some disorganized play in the back to run away with the game.
“We came out in the second half and we felt we needed to push … from the back and we just got all out of sorts,” said Brown. “I was stepping in at the wrong time, Wilman Conde was stepping in at the wrong time – the whole back line was disorganized.”
The Fire’s defensive struggles have taken a new shape since that blustery spring day.
Chicago are now defending fine during open play but struggling mightily against set pieces, having allowed five goals from set plays in their last three matches, including one in the 91st minute of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy.
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Brown said one of their keys to victory will be to limit the amount of set plays they give up on Wednesday.
“We give up too many free kicks, too many corner kicks,” Brown said. “And off of the corner kicks we’re giving up another corner kick, so they’re getting three or four opportunities on what should be one chance. That’s where we’re struggling.”
Nyarko mentioned that Chicago need to remain focused throughout the entire 90 minutes.
“We just need to stay disciplined and concentrated,” he said. “If we’re able to do that, we’re going to come out with a win.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.