It’s time for the Chicago Fire to go on a run or start auditioning for next season, because they’ve nearly buried themselves and they need help. Ten points is the difference between the Fire and Saturday’s opponents Seattle Sounders FC who happen to hold the league’s final playoff spot – making up those points seems a task that is almost insurmountable.
Here are some things to watch out for in Saturday’s all important match with Seattle:
First, the Sounders come to Chicago, from Monterrey, Mexico, where a team compiled almost completely of reserves lost 3-2 Wednesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League. They almost won the match, but coughed up 3 unanswered goals in the losing effort.
The real Seattle Sounders FC were in full force last Saturday night as they throttled the Columbus Crew 4-0 in Ohio’s capital city. It was a night of firsts for Seattle. Retired Swiss international Blaise Nkufo tallied his first goal with his new club and added two more later in the match, picking up the first-ever hat trick in Seattle’s MLS existence. The team’s four goals were a club record and the result also stood as the Sounders’ largest margin of victory in their two-year MLS run.
The Sounders now have momentum, the road win was their first since July 31, and the offense was flowing freely against Columbus. They look loose, like they are having fun and its working. Steve Zakuani is a danger with his speed and service – he looks to be developing chemistry with MLS Player of the Week, Nkufo, and the tandem could cause some sleepless nights for Fire defenders. Goalless in his first five MLS matches, folks wondered about the newly signed Sounders Designated Player. Well, Nkufo has answered and the seal was blown off with dynamite. Attributing his slow start to getting acclimated to the Seattle turf, he should be comfortable on the grass at Toyota Park.
Veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller earned the clean sheet against Columbus making five stops, in his 50th consecutive MLS appearance, serving as a calming presence for the Seattle side.
For Chicago Fire, start playing up to your potential. The pressure should be subsiding, because the playoff goal is so far off in the distance. This is a skilled group, with some depth. With so many new faces, this is almost like preseason for Chicago. They are learning about their new teammates tendencies and skill sets on the fly. It still can’t be used as an excuse.
Frank Klopas and Fire ownership didn’t exactly go shopping for used cars when they made their midseason moves. It’s time for Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo to step up and be noticed. Fire fans have been waiting for a breakout performance from one of these two, as we have been treated to several glimpses of their natural talent, especially Ljungberg. Talk about a match that means something to the stylish Swede. His old team shut him down in his return to Qwest Field last month and to rub salt in the wound, Seattle’s dramatic turnaround has coincided with his departure as the Fire sit mired in a six- match winless drought, and this high powered offense has tapered, going goalless in the last three games. Its time for the leaders to lead, and show the rest how its done.
Training has been solid this week, and according to a couple Fire players, a little edge has been present, as the sense of desperation is maximizing the effort. On the good side, this club fought hard in the second half in their 1-0 loss at Salt Lake. The defense did a pretty good job limiting RSL’s chances, but scoring goals is the big problem right now. The general consensus seems to be that attackers are in good positions, they are just missing that big money play, with a finish or pass. Scoring first would be a big help, as the confidence is a little fragile with the frugal production.
Finally, stop letting the officials become a distraction. In stark contrast to RSL, Chicago seemed to be burning a lot of oxygen in the mountain air, barking at officials. Its harder then it sounds, because at least the Men in Red are showing passion, they just need to direct it better. Chicago Fire has the talent assembled, to do the unthinkable and make a historic run into the playoffs but they better show it from first kick this Saturday night, no more slip ups, or this seasons playoff hopes will slide away.