The Chicago Fire returned to the training pitch Tuesday to begin the first of two short weeks of post-season practice before the players go their separate ways for the 2012 offseason.
Having had a few days to soak in last Wednesday’s playoff exit vs. Houston, second-year Fire captain Logan Pause admitted to having mixed emotions Tuesday.
“It’s obviously still hard to swallow,” he said. “We worked so hard throughout the year to get into the playoffs and hoping to make a run so to come up short is obviously disappointing. You recognize that building anything takes time and I think we have to look at the bigger picture of what we’re trying to grow towards. Looking at that, there are obviously a lot of positives and things to build on."
WATCH: Logan Pause "Taking the Lead"
Some of the positives: a 17-win season which saw the team tie the club record for most points in a year (57) and the first postseason berth since 2009. The return of a lethal goal scorer in Chris Rolfe, emergence of Rookie of the Year shoe-in Austin Berry as a more than viable MLS defender and Arne Friedrich's mentoring presence on the back line.
Even after an impressive stretch of seven wins in eight matches during August and September, the Fire’s form dipped at the very end of the season, winning only one of the team’s final five regular season matches.
In another year, 57 points could have earned a side the Supporters Shield, but the Fire’s form down the stretch combined with a much higher win total league wide and a tight Eastern Conference forced the Men in Red into the undesirable fourth place position and last Wednesday’s one-game knockout loss to Houston.
Pause admitted the end of year position felt a little hollow, “In some ways one game makes you feel like it’s not even the playoffs. It’s the way it’s set up though. In baseball they have a one-game play-in after 162 games. It’s disappointing but in the end, we put ourselves in the best situation we could -- we played the game at home and just came up short.”
While there may be feelings of disappointment and a few “What ifs”, the team continues to pay close attention to the ongoing MLS Cup playoffs with Pause willing to give his picks for who will hoist MLS Cup on December 1.
“I think obviously San Jose is a favorite but I also think Salt Lake is going to be a hard team to beat.”