BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- From Chivas de Guadalajara to Chivas USA, the latter opponent has a bearing on the Chicago Fire's distant postseason hopes.
Chicago hosts Chivas USA this Saturday at Toyota Park, and the team is coming off a 1-0 international friendly defeat to Guadalajara on Wednesday. The Fire (4-8-15, 27 points) enter the weekend in a three-way tie for last place in the Eastern Conference alongside the New England Revolution (which plays late Friday night against the expansion Portland Timbers) and Toronto FC.
The Fire are seven points out of the final wild card spot, and narrowing that gap will take some doing. D.C. United enters the weekend in that fourth wild card slot having played only 25 games to Chicago's 27.
"It's a huge match. It's a match we feel like we have to win," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "Our backs are up against the wall, and we need wins. I'm sure it's going to be an exciting game because Chivas also needs wins. They are on the outside looking in."
Chivas (7-11-10, 31 points) is in the midst of a significant drought. Not only have the Goats lost three straight, but they also have not scored a goal during this stretch.
The Fire had found some momentum in August, earning back-to-back league wins and a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory over the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers to close out the month. But last week's 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes was a critical blow as the Quakes moved two points ahead of Chicago in the wild card race.
"The three-game winning streak helped ease some of the tension," Pause said. "But at the end of the day we are where we are. It's not where we want to be and it's not where we think we deserve to be."
The bulk of the Fire's roster played for only one half during the midweek loss to Guadalajara. In the first half, the Fire possibly went with this Saturday's starting defensive line in anticipation of Dan Gargan's one-game suspension (yellow card accumulation). Jalil Anibaba played at Gargan's right back position, with Cory Gibbs and Josip Mikulic teaming up at center back, and Gonzalo Segares returning to left back after his one-game suspension.
"It's always tough because I think we're gelling pretty well, especially the four in the back," Segares said of the team playing without a starting back for a second straight week. "We were starting to get to know each other better and we were pretty sharp with our communication. When you're missing a key player, it's always tough to try to bring in somebody else. It definitely takes a couple of sessions or weeks to get it back together.
"It was tough for us, for me to miss [the San Jose match]. We're going to have to do the same with Dan missing."
The Fire defense should feel confident matching up against a Chivas offense that has not scored since Laurent Courtois' 86th-minute goal during a 2-2 draw against Colorado on Aug. 20. Chicago also has improved on the home front, posting a 3-2-8 record and 17 points at Toyota Park -- 10 points better than its road mark.
Still, the Fire need an enormous amount of help to go along with their own issue of stringing together several wins to get back into the race.
"We have a massively important seven games ahead and we will see what we're made of," Pause said. "We can only control things on our end."