BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire are no strangers to rebounding from a rough stretch. Their recent 1-2-2 stretch hasn't been the plunge into the depths of the Eastern Conference like their 2-7-1 start to the season, but an own goal here, and a red card or a defensive error there have cost them the luxury of being comfortably in a playoff spot.
While the Fire are on the outside of the playoff race looking in, they're still left with a chance of making this season a successful one. And the mood seems to be much better, ahead of a clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday night (8:30 pm ET; MLS Live) that is bordering on “must win” territory, than it was during their awful start to the season.
“The early season sucked, so anything is better than that,” Chris Rolfe said. “It's been tough as we expected. We dropped some points that we could've had, but I think despite that, the spirit is still pretty good.”
The Fire's only good grace of the last month has been the play of the teams ahead of it in the playoff race.
In the tortoise race for the fourth and fifth spots in the conference, the four teams that were clustered together in late August – Chicago, Houston, New England and Philadelphia – have gone a combined 4-8-5 since August 30th, with only Houston winning more than once during that span. Third-place Montreal, who the Fire play on Saturday, lost their last two.
Last weekend's 3-0 loss to Columbus was certainly disheartening for Chicago, but a blowout on paper doesn't feel like a horrible loss to Mike Magee.
“Hopefully that's an easy one to throw away just because going down a goal is kind of a common theme for us, and the game wasn't over for us once we went down 1-0,” Magee told MLSsoccer.com. “But then you get a red card, and I thought we even bounced back after that. Obviously that game got out of control [at the end].”
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After Saturday, Chicago have just one game left at Toyota Park. Because New England and Houston play each other this weekend, the Fire are assured of either jumping into the fifth spot or climbing to within one point of fourth with a win.
With a loss and a New England win, the Fire's playoff chances could become remote, four points out with just four games remaining.
“We only have two home games left, so we've to get six points out of those. I think that's a necessity,” Rolfe said. “It's been frustrating, but look, that's the way the game goes. Are we the best team in the league? Not a chance. So we're not going to win every game, especially no this time of year. That's just where we are right now.”