Monday, September 19, 2011
Fire have no room for error toward late run
By Charlie Corr
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire are hanging around, and considering where this team was in mid-August, it is surprising that a postseason berth still is a slight possibility.
The odds for the playoffs are slim as only six games remain and three other teams are ahead of the Fire in the postseason picture.
But does Chicago have one final gasp at making a realistic run for a playoff spot? Is there enough time to eliminate the current six-point gap that separates Chicago from a wild card berth?
"We've progressively been getting better, and the results have been getting better," Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson said following Chicago's shorthanded 3-2 victory against Chivas USA on Saturday. "But now is the time to turn it up and get three points every time out. We have six games and we need all six. That's our attitude."
The Fire host the New England Revolution this Sunday, and the Revs basically represent the only remaining team on Chicago's schedule that is outside of the playoff picture. D.C. United is on the outside, as well, but United also has played in three fewer matches than the Fire and is ahead in the standings.
Everybody else on the Fire's late-September through October schedule would advance to the playoffs if the season ended today.
Chicago (5-8-15, 30 points) cannot afford anything less than a win against the Revs, which have the second-lowest points total in the league (5-12-12, 27 points).
Can Pappa find his form?: The Fire midfield's midseason facelift has been a positive with the additions of Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo. But a continual setback has permeated with the play of Marco Pappa.
Pappa entered this season with the expectations that he would be a primal force on the offensive end. But Pappa is in the midst of a massive drought. He has not scored a goal since June 26 against the New York Red Bulls.
Pappa wore his frustration during the Chivas match, visibly upset that he did not receive the ball at certain moments.
"Sometimes he makes a lot of hard runs, and when he doesn't get the ball, it's normal," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "He wants to do well for the team and for himself. There were a couple of times I think we could have played the ball early, and he was in a better position.
"Marco's played a lot of games, with [Guatemala] national team duty and traveling. You can see it's catching up on him a little bit."
Defensive merry-go-round still spins: For a third straight week, the Fire's back line will be without one of its starting defenders this Sunday. Cory Gibbs was issued a red card for his challenge against Chivas' Michael Lahoud. From a contact standpoint, replays showed that Gibbs probably deserved a yellow, but the nature of the play was an unintelligent move on Gibbs' part.
Gonzalo Segares and Dan Gargan missed games for yellow card accumulation, and their recent yellows should have been avoided. Both players were carded for dissent, and if you are going to cross a line, it should at least be done in the run of play. Segares' infraction forced him to miss the team's road loss against the San Jose Earthquakes, and Gargan was out for the Chivas match.
The Fire found some continuity with the back line of Segares, Jalil Anibaba, Gibbs and Gargan, and in no way, shape or form did the Fire want to tinker with this combination. But yet again, Chicago's poor decisions on the defensive side are forcing Klopas to make some unnecessary adjustments.
Johnson playing big: Johnson's early-season struggles are a distant memory. The second-year goalkeeper has had to come up with some clutch saves in all types of fashions -- run of play, set pieces and penalty kicks.
"We know he has all the tools to be an unbelievable goalkeeper, but with his experience he's making game saving saves to keep us in games," Fire captain Logan Pause said.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence, which you need in that position," Klopas said. "He's got a lot of upside. He's getting better. I can't tell you where that upside is going to stop with him."