Kick Off: With playoffs in sight, Fire revel in 15th anniversary

The Chicago Fire are turning 15 years old this week – and they’re doing it in style.

In the midst of a battle for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, or perhaps even first place if results go their way in October, Chicago will celebrate the club’s 15th anniversary on Wednesday at Toyota Park against the Philadelphia Union.

Club legends Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Peter Nowak and Chris Armas will be honored at halftime of a game that could vault the Fire within two points of first place Sporting Kansas City. The celebrations will continue through Monday, when Section 8 hosts an anniversary celebration at Chicago History Museum, and a Bumpy Pitch shirt has been commissioned for the occasion as well.

“It’s one of those moments that you’re able to look and see, man, look at the rich tradition of soccer in this city and with this club,” Fire captain Logan Pause said. “It’s a blessing and an honor to have represented this club for so long, and I’m happy to be a part of this celebration.”

In another bit of good news in Chicago on Monday, striker Álvaro Fernández learned he had been named to the 30-man preliminary roster for Uruguay’s two World Cup qualifiers against Argentina on Oct. 12 and Bolivia on Oct. 16.

Chicago will seal their playoff spot if they can knock off the Union on Wednesday night (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) and follow that up with a victory at Red Bull Arena against New York on Saturday afternoon (3:30 pm ET, NBC).

Of course, the Red Bulls are also closing in on a playoff spot of their own, and could book their postseason place with a victory against the Fire and a friendly result or two. Those stakes, combined with some off-field acrimony between the two sides over the years, should result in a high-intensity match in Harrison, N.J.

New York should be brimming with confidence following Saturday's 4-1 shellacking of Toronto FC, a victory which may have helped Hans Backe determine his most-effective lineup going forward. The biggest takeaway? Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill are fast becoming complementary parts in the middle of the field: "With Dax playing with you, there's a lot of energy between us," Cahill said. "We want to win every ball, we want to clear every ball. We want to run and do other people's jobs and our own jobs."

Another strong MLS partnership is in disarray, however, as A.J. DeLaGarza will reportedly be out until at least the end of the regular season with a knee sprain suffered against Colorado on Sunday night. DeLaGarza had an MRI on Monday and more information on the injury is expected to be released on Tuesday. It's a potentially massive blow for LA, which needs to channel their playoff mentality starting now according to one columnist.

On the flip side, could Frank Lampard be closer to making a move to SoCal?

Up the California coast, another MLS Cup contender lost a crucial asset to injury this weekend, as San Jose's Mehdi Ballouchy tore his right ACL after landing awkwardly against FC Dallas. Ballouchy is expected to undergo surgery later this week and is out “indefinitely.”

Speaking of the Earthquakes, Sporting KC's Graham Zusi is so impressed by Chris Wondolowski's season – 22 goals and counting – that he told the guys on ExtraTime Radio on Monday that he'd UPS the award to the Bay Area if it somehow came his way.

Zusi might yet have a consolation prize: the Supporters' Shield. Sporting KC have now set a franchise record for points with 58 and trail league leaders San Jose by just three points with three games remaining for both sides. Check out this impressive collection of stats from the club's historic season. While you're at it, dig a little deeper into Oriol Rosell's move from Barcelona. He brought his girlfriend along for the ride and both have college on their minds.

History could also be made this weekend in Seattle, where the club has already sold 66,000 tickets to Sunday's match against Cascadia rivals Portland. It will be the biggest crowd at CenturyLink Field this season and could be the biggest in Pacific Northwest history.

It will also be a crucial match in the increasingly tight race for seeding in the Western Conference. The Sounders will be desperate to avoid the play-in game, which will be a matchup of the fourth and fifth seeds, and the Seattle Times broke down the current situation facing Sigi Schmid's team. Head here for the playoff breakdown for D.C. United, which faces a similar situation in the East.

Things are a bit more tenuous in Vancouver, where the 'Caps are now in a dogfight for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West with FC Dallas. Brad Knighton will hope to lead his side to a playoff berth this month with more than soccer on his mind. Striker Kenny Miller was called up for the Scotland side that will take on Wales on Oct. 12 and Belgium on Oct. 16.

Whitecaps prospect Bryce Alderson was called up to the Canadian U-20 side on Monday, along with a host of other MLS players. Check out his blog for Goal.com. Luis Gil and a number of other MLS youngsters were named to Tab Ramos' US U-20 side.

Read about the young forward lighting up the Danish first division that could end up wearing red, white and blue. His decision between Iceland and the US could be made soon as World Cup qualifiers approach.

Finally, check out two wide-reaching Q&As with former USMNT and MLS coach Bob Gansler and NASL Commissioner David Downs.

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