Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas certainly was not conceding Saturday's game against the Houston Dynamo. But with Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Seattle Sounders FC and a recent 3-0 win at Real Salt Lake three days prior, Klopas decided to put several of Chicago's key cogs on the bench to start out.
One regular starter who got the call to start Saturday was Fire forward Dominic Oduro. Oduro netted a first-half goal against his former Dynamo team as Chicago rallied from a deficit to draw Houston, 1-1, at Robertson Stadium.
Oduro was traded to Chicago for Calen Carr at the start of the season after missing a sitter during the Dynamo's opening match. Now, Oduro is leading the Fire with 12 goals and is in the running for the league's Golden Boot.
"It was good to be back in Houston," Oduro said. "Playing on the other side was a little bit different. At the end of the day, I think the fans appreciated me playing for them and I thank them."
Oduro's day was cut short as he limped off the field with an ankle injury and was replaced by Patrick Nyarko in the 51st minute for precautionary reasons.
"It was just a little bit sore when I made contact in the box," Oduro said. "I should be OK for Tuesday."
The big question is what Saturday meant for the Fire's playoff chances. Chicago (7-8-16, 37 points) basically needed to win out in order to keep making a push. With only three regular-season games remaining and multiple teams ahead of Chicago in the wild card standings, the playoff odds took a hit on Saturday.
"We knew we needed the three points to help our chances in making the playoffs," Oduro said. "We've just got to be grateful that we didn't lose the game. At this point, one point is better than no points."
The New York Red Bulls (40 points) maintained their final wild card position with a come-from-behind 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday night at BMO Field.
Neither the Fire nor Dynamo created a whole lot of scoring opportunities through the first 30 minutes. But in the 33rd, the Dynamo struck first with a Colin Clark goal for a 1-0 lead. Houston took a corner kick from the left side and the ball was headed in the path of Brian Ching. Fire defender Jalil Anibaba broke it up but was unable to clear the ball. Instead, the ball bounced off of Anibaba and went toward Clark, who used his left foot to net the goal.
Chicago responded in the 43rd minute when Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic played a through ball to Oduro, who then proceeded to beat Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell toward the goal. Oduro pushed the ball underneath Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall to tie the score at 1-1.
"It was a good combination and through ball from Baggio," Oduro said. "It was just a good goal. When it was me and Bobby, I knew I had the speed to get past him and I pushed it across."
Analysis: The Fire could have rolled out with their usual lineup, but that would be a weary midfield and front line heading into Tuesday's Open Cup. You can't fault Klopas for juggling the lineup a bit, though perhaps it was the difference between Chicago walking away from Houston with three points instead of just the one.
Several weeks back, when the Fire's playoff chances looked bleak, the Open Cup represented the primary goal of a struggling campaign. Saturday's draw pushed the pendulum slightly toward this sentiment once again as Chicago only has three regular-season games left to make up more ground.
Some MLS teams don't take the Open Cup as seriously as others, but it is refreshing to see two organizations gearing up for this final with vigor. After Tuesday's Open Cup, no matter which team emerges with the win, the Fire and Sounders will have a combined seven crowns over a 14-year stretch.