BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Patrick Nyarko looked forward with a blank look on his face after being asked about the possibility of the Chicago Fire clinching a playoff spot this weekend.
“Really?” Nyarko said, making it clear that he wanted to avoid the topic completely. “That's interesting.”
With the amount of times the Fire have been in, out of and lurking around a playoff spot late this season, it's no surprise that the forward didn't even address the possibility that the long march to the postseason could be over this Saturday at home against Toronto (8:30 pm ET; MLS Live).
But after a roller coaster season, Chicago could finally ensure a top-five spot if they win against Toronto, Columbus beats or ties New England and Montreal beats Philadelphia. If that happens, Saturday's game could turn into a celebration for a team that began the season 2-7-1.
“It feels good,” center back Austin Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “Even when it was in the down part of the roller coaster season, we still had the hope and the desire, and we still had the focus on our goals that we set at the beginning of the season. “Nothing was lost, and we started to see results go our way, and that started to fuel us even more. Now that we're so close to the end, we have the last playoff spot so it's all in our favor. As long as we take care of business, we don't have to rely on anything else, and that's a good spot to be in.”
Of course, the Fire could drop back into seventh with a loss, or sixth with a tie.
The biggest question on Saturday is whether the Fire will go with offensive midfielder Alex or holding midfielder Arevalo Rios, who recently returned from Uruguayan national team duty. The 32-year-old told Chicago-Fire.com that he's ready to go, but it remains unclear whether coach Frank Klopas will decide to use him.
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Against the second-worst team in the league, a win should theoretically be automatic for the best team in the league since June, when Mike Magee made his debut with the club. But last month, the Fire tied in Toronto in a game that was largely controlled by the home side.
“Last time we played them, I think we were all over them the first 15, 20 minutes and then they were all over us the rest of the game, so we definitely have got to be more compact against them,” midfielder Dilly Duka told MLSsoccer.com. “They have threats, so we've just got to stick together, work hard, and do what we do on the counter.”