Chicago Fire already in playoff mentality as they make late rally in season

Perhaps the Chicago Fire are saving their best for last.

Struggling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for most of the 2019 season, seemingly doomed to miss the postseason, a recent resurgence has helped get them back into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs chase. Their cause received a big boost with a rousing 4-0 home win over FC Dallas on Saturday at SeatGeek Stadium.

Now just three points below the playoff line, with three games to play hope is surging for the Fire.

“The team is in its best moment and we have three games that represent a great opportunity," Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic told reporters in Spanish after the game. "I’m confident that if we win the three [matches] we have left, we’re going to qualify [for the playoffs] because we’ll also have other results. First, because this is football and the others face each other. And then, I believe in my luck and in the work we did throughout the year and last year even more. All of this sets you up for success in the end." 

Chicago ran rampant over Dallas in the rout, with CJ Sapong scoring first in the 7th minute and three more goals – courtesy of Przemyslaw Frankowski, Nemanja Nikolic and a second from Sapong – scored before halftime to effectively seal the win at the break.

"It's crunch time," Sapong said on the local broadcast after the game. "At this point in the season we got to be used to bringing everything we have on the field.

"There's nine points left on the table and we want to get all nine points and be in the playoffs," the striker added.

Given their position, the Fire are effectively already playing playoff games in a sense, a fact not lost on Paunovic. But he believes in his team's ability to rise to the occasion, with the next challenge coming at an already eliminated FC Cincinnati next Saturday.

“If we continue like this – and we’re going to continue like this – this team will keep fighting. The next game is a playoff game, which means winning and passing to the next round. And we’ll continue like this,” Paunovic said.

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