Clash with New York Red Bulls kicks off "make-or-break" week for Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It's an old sports cliche that there comes a point in the season when winning becomes necessary. An absolute requirement.

With just three wins on the season and sitting below the red line in the playoff race heading into the final third of the season, that time has certainly come for the Chicago Fire.

Which is why Sunday's home clash with the New York Red Bulls (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes) must be considered a must-win game.

"At this point, I guess it is," head coach Frank Yallop said this week. "We have to start winning matches. Although it always feels good early in the season when you don’t lose, now we’ve got to get three points in every game we have. But the season’s not gone, which is important. We’re obviously starting to slip a little bit with all the ties we keep getting, but we’ve got a game in hand on a couple of teams up there." 

Despite the lack of wins, the Fire are just five points out of the playoff picture, thanks in large part to a staggering number of draws (13), including last week’s 1-1 tie with the Columbus Crew. The Fire are now three draws short of the MLS single-season record, set by the Red Bulls and the Fire themselves in 2011

"We’ve won one game at home," Yallop said. "I don’t care what league you’re in, that’s not close to being good enough.”

The next seven days could define the Fire’s season. They have "six-pointer" regular-season games against conference rivals the Red Bulls and the Montreal Impact, plus Wednesday’s US Open Cup semifinal clash away to the Seattle Sounders.

“We’ve got a big week coming up, and I think it’s kind of make or break for us,” Yallop said.

They will be helped by the presence of Mike Magee (calf) and Lovel Palmer (groin), both of whom sat out training on Thursday but are expected to start against the fourth-placed Red Bulls. Patrick Nyarko and new signing Sanna Nyassi are still working back from recent injuries.

And rookie sensation Harry Shipp -- who enjoyed a hat trick the last time Chicago faced New York -- remains a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster campaign.

“Any game now is a must-win game," Shipp said. "We considered last weekend a must-win game, but that’s how we’ve approached every week, especially the second half of the year since the World Cup break. One game can turn our season around, and if we get two wins in a row we’re right back in the playoffs, so that’s how tight it is. I think our attitude has a bit more urgency this week than normal.”

“I’ll never concede,” Yallop said. “A run of games gets us right back in the picture. Never give up on a season because it can change quickly.”