BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's postseason hopes were erased Thursday night with the New York Red Bulls clinching the final playoff spot. But that does not mean there is little value to the Fire's home finale when they host the Columbus Crew.
Chicago (8-9-16, 40 points) has come a long way during the second half of the season to even be a part of the postseason dialogue over the past several weeks. So the Fire would like to maintain that trend with one final positive result heading into 2012.
"The most important thing, and our focus, has to be on making sure we finish the season strong," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We're playing at home against a very good team -- a big rival of ours. It's just important to continue to be building and getting better every game."
"I feel like we're playing for something," Fire forward Patrick Nyarko said. "We're playing for three points, playing for a win, playing for our fans who have been with us all year through torrid times."
Toyota Park will have a sellout crowd on hand, and the Fire for the most part had found some life on the home front over the past couple of months. The Fire had a four-game winning streak at home to get into the postseason picture, but they hit a roadblock during their 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas on Oct. 12.
"Against Dallas, we didn't come out sharp mentally and physically, and they punished us," Nyarko said. "If we go out there like we did against Dallas, it'll be a long night. But we know how we played against D.C. and we know we can get the wins. The guys are mentally ready to close the season on a bright note."
The Fire are fresh off a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over D.C. United last Saturday at RFK Stadium. Diego Chaves scored the winner and Sebastian Grazzini had the equalizer -- both goals coming in stoppage time. But Grazzini is a question mark heading into this weekend with a lingering hamstring injury.
Some reinforcements that were not in D.C. will be back this weekend. Midfielder Pavel Pardo (red card) and defenders Cory Gibbs (yellow card accumulation) and Dan Gargan (yellow card accumulation) return from their suspensions. Defender Josip Mikulic, who replaced Gibbs in the D.C. match, will be suspended for the season finale because of yellow card accumulation.
Columbus (13-12-8, 47 points) is coming off a 3-0 victory at the New England Revolution last Saturday. Team scoring leader Andres Mendoza posted a pair of goals to increase his season total to 13.
The Fire defeated the Crew, 1-0, in Columbus on June 12. Cristian Nazarit tallied a stoppage-time goal as Klopas earned his first win at the helm after taking over for former head coach Carlos de los Cobos. That victory also ended an 11-game winless streak (0-4-7).
Oduro, Gibbs earn team awards: Though the season has one final game remaining in the books, the Fire felt that it was clear-cut in naming forward Dominic Oduro the team MVP and Cory Gibbs the Defender of the Year on Friday. Oduro leads the Fire with 12 goals in 33 games. Both players will receive their awards before Saturday's match. The team said that Gibbs narrowly beat out goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the defensive honor. Both awards were voted on by local media and the team's technical staff. Defender Steven Kinney, who did not play on the pitch this season because of an Achilles injury in 2010 and had various setbacks during his recovery process, was named Fire Humanitarian of the Year.
Draft takes place on Jan. 12: Major League Soccer announced Friday that the 2012 MLS SuperDraft will be held on Jan. 12 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Mo. ESPN2 will broadcast the first round, starting at 11 a.m.