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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Fire's postseason hopes on thin ice

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire are not used to a playoff-less campaign. But with each passing match and the lack of a win over five straight, the Fire are in must-win mode every time out for their remaining eight games.

"I'm not someone that knows a whole lot about what a panic button is, but in terms of what our team is going through, it's a hard time," midfielder Logan Pause said. "It'll be a challenging next couple of weeks for sure."

Pending a massive breakdown from the Eastern Conference's top two teams -- the Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls -- the Fire (6-8-8) most likely are shooting for one of the four wild card berths.

Chicago has a heavy workload starting with defending champion Real Salt Lake this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. At training this week, the word thrown around the most was "consistency," which the Fire have been lacking all season.

"It would be great to pinpoint all our problems, wouldn't it?" forward Brian McBride said. "We're definitely trying to figure things out and change a lot of things. We just need to be more consistent."

"I think that even if we haven't had a good season, many matches the team has good moments," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We need to have consistency. We have very good minutes with the ball, but sometimes we lose order."

If this team has an inkling of postseason ability, it needs to find a way to play a complete game. During the Fire's five-match winless streak (0-3-2), Chicago has lost or drawn in a variety of ways -- slow starts, poor finishes, bad touches with the ball in key situations, lack of offensive finishing and defensive marking lapses during set pieces to name just a few.

"The attention to detail becomes so important at this level," Pause said. "Sooner or later you're going to get burned off those mistakes. We're trying to minimize those. It's easy to talk about those mistakes that lead to goals. Sometimes it's difficult to talk about the mistakes that we get chances to score goals, but they don't result in scoring goals. So it's all over the field. It's from top to bottom, and we need to get things done here."

If there is a positive within this final eight-game stretch, the Fire do have a healthier roster compared to previous weeks. Only midfielder John Thorrington (hamstring) and defender Dasan Robinson (hamstring) are doubtful in this week's injury report, with outside defensive back Steven Kinney probable (quad contusion).

Regardless of the injury situation, De los Cobos continues to juggle his starting lineup, trying to find the right combination to string together some positive performances.

"I wish I could have 11 players all the time -- the same players playing each week in each match," De los Cobos said. "Sometimes the level of the performance is not good for some players, and I need to change [the starting lineup]."

If cohesiveness and fluidity are lacking, perhaps aggressiveness and sheer grit could do the trick to get over the hump.

"We've put ourselves in this position," McBride said. "It's something where we've got to get out of this by playing better. Even when we don't play well ... right now I think if we're not playing well and we win games, we'll take it. A lot of times that means determination and fight. But hopefully we'll start playing better."