No lapses will be acceptable this weekend for the Chicago Fire – no last-minute own-goals, no heartbreaking stoppage-time let-ups, no dropped points.
If the Fire want to make a playoff push, they know they can't afford a disappointing result at home Saturday against fifth-place New England (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live), who they trail by one point in the Eastern Conference standings.
“A game like this means so much,” midfielder Dilly Duka told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “This game is pretty similar to a one-game knockout in the playoffs. We're trying to take points away from a team that have one point in the standings. This is a crucial game, and if we come out of this game without three points, it's definitely going to hurt.”
Chicago made up their game in hand on sixth-place Houston and the Revolution on Wednesday and they only came away with one point against Toronto FC, the second-to-last place team in the East. The Fire have been helped by poor results from New England, Houston and Philadelphia, but they haven't been able to help themselves.
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On Wednesday, it was shoddy defending. Last Saturday against Seattle, a late own-goal felled them. And the week before, a defensive lapse allowed Houston to tie in the waning minutes.
“It's been frustrating,” defender Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com via telephone. “We've had chances to jump up to the fifth place, and I feel that we haven't taken advantage of it. … We've got a big game on Saturday and we cannot keep thinking about what happened.”
Sooner or later, Chicago know they have to put up results.
Saturday is a prime chance for a six-point swing, with midfielder Arévalo Ríos returning from international duty with Uruguay. If Ríos is able to start, he'll push Alex out wide, where competition is more fierce than ever for the Fire.
Joel Lindpere is returning from international duty, where he traveled with Estonia but didn't play, and Patrick Nyarko is finding his form after coming off of a mild concussion. Heading into a game that is all but must-win, Duka doesn't think competition for his spot is such a bad thing.
“We have to factor in that we just played three games in about a week and it's only going to help us to get some fresh legs,” Duka said. “You've got me and Alex who have played in the last couple of games a good amount of minutes, so it's good to have fresh legs.
"That's only going to help when we're playing big teams like we are this weekend. I'm sure the lineup's going to rotate a little bit. But everyone's ready, everyone's ready to contribute.”
Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said the team talks about playoff implications before each game, and they discuss the importance of opportunity to finally jump into a playoff spot. The Fire have another chance on Saturday, and if they don't take it, they may not get many more.
“It's in our minds, it's something that we say before these games,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “That being said, we continue to be presented with the opportunity to do it, and that's a good thing, that's not something that happens all the time. We have a good opportunity, and we have to take our chance on Saturday.”