PREVIEW: Fire could deliver a knockout punch to Columbus tonight

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – After a slew of bad results for the teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Columbus Crew have crept ever closer to the playoff race after being out of the conversation for the last month.

But the Chicago Fire could deliver a virtual knockout punch to those hopes with a win on Saturday in Columbus. Or the Crew could climb within one of the fifth-place Fire.

“In this moment, this is their season,” Chicago midfielder Joel Lindpere told “We're going to go for three points. We need to win and we need to keep on going. But for them, it's the season. They can be just behind the last playoff spots or they are done.”

Chicago have done all they could this season to put Columbus out of contention, beating them twice in regular season play and once in the US Open Cup.

But Mike Magee has seen a different team in the three games since coach Robert Warzycha was fired.

“Firing their coach obviously lit a fire under their players, then obviously coming off of a win in Montreal is pretty difficult to do,” Magee said. “They're flying right now. I don't think it's a time you want to play Columbus, but we need points.”

While interim coach Brian Bliss adds an unknown element to a team the Fire knew well early in the season, Fire coach Frank Klopas's lineup in Saturday's pivotal matchup is anybody's guess.

Juan Luis Anangono scored his first goal of the season in last Saturday's win over New England and was involved in another, so he may challenge Chris Rolfe for a spot up top. Four midfielders are fighting for two spots on the outside, all of whom are in form and healthy for the first time this season.

“It's good to have some good depth there,” Klopas said. “A lot of players that can change the game.”

Those game-changers could put the Fire seven points ahead of Columbus. But a superstitious Magee wouldn't say that Saturday was a chance to put Columbus to bed.

“I'm not going to say that,” Magee said. “Hell no.”