BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire’s playoff hopes might be dead – the New York Red Bulls saw to that by beating the Philadelphia Union on Thursday night – but that doesn’t mean the team is going to roll over in their season finale Saturday against Columbus (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“Even without [the playoffs] I feel like we’re playing for something,” Fire attacker Patrick Nyarko told reporters on Wednesday, one day before the Red Bulls clinched the 10th and final postseason berth at the Fire’s expense. “We’re playing for three points, we’re playing for a win and we’re playing for our fans who have been with us all year through hard times.”
The Fire certainly had some difficult patches this season. Chicago started the year miserably, winning just one of their first 11 games before firing former head coach Carlos de los Cobos on May 30.
Interim head coach Frank Klopas fared only slightly better in his first days on the job, going 1-3-9 in his first 13 games, but was able to make a pair of huge signings in July by bringing midfielders Pável Pardo and Sebastián Grazzini to Chicago on free transfers.
Chicago’s new center midfield duo made a huge impact, with holding midfielder Pardo pulling the strings from the back and attacking midfielder Grazzini creating – and putting away – numerous chances.
While Pardo and Grazzini couldn’t quite get the Fire into the playoffs, their performance – along with Klopas’ effective tactics and man-management – has Chicago feeling like they’re building something heading into 2012.
“Whether we have a shot at the playoffs or not, we should just focus on the last game and finishing strong,” Nyarko said. “It’ll carry momentum toward the next season and build confidence for us if we can win Saturday.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.