The Fires record (5-3-3) isnt bad, but the club has been inconsistent in the first third of the Major League Soccer season.
While the Fire are coming off a 2-1 home win over FC Dallas, Saturdays road match against the Columbus Crew would be a good place for consistency to kick in. The Fire are fourth and the Crew (4-4-3) fifth in the Eastern Conference so this amounts to an early-season meeting of teams on the playoff bubble, and a Crew victory will pull Columbus into a tie with the Fire with 18 points. This will also be the first match in Fire history carried on NBC5, and the club is paying for 10 busloads (600 fans) to attend the game.
The Fires visit to Columbus last season was encouraging. A late goal by the now-departed Christian Nazarit gave the Fire a 1-0 victory, and it was also Frank Klopas first win as the clubs interim head coach. The Fire, of course, played well after that and Klopas interim tag was dropped by owner Andrew Hauptman in the offseason.
Wednesdays home win over FC Dallas was encouraging as well. It marked the first time the Fire could beat FC Dallas at Toyota Park. FC Dallas was 5-0-1 there until goals by Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini and a big save by goalkeeper Sean Johnson finally enabled the Fire to break that strange hex.
That win could also mean the Fire finally won the Brimstone Cup, which is symbolic of the superiority of one club over the other each season. It has become a silly competition anyway. The Cup rivalry was established when FC Dallas was known as the Dallas Burn, meaning the Fire would meet the Burn. Cute, eh?
The rivalry never was given much more meaning than any other regular season MLS match by either team, and when the Burn was no longer part of the equation the whole rivalry aspect diminished still further. Still, the Dallas franchise held possession of the Brimstone Cup every year since 2001, but Wednesdays match was their only MLS matchup of this season.
Rivalry or not, the win was big as far as Klopas was concerned.
"It was just a huge win. We scored from behind again, which shows a lot of character for this group," he said.
Once again the Fire gave up the games first goal. Then Grazzini tied it before halftime with what Klopas described as "fantastic.a world-class goal." Marco Pappa got the game-winner in the second half and Johnsons save on a penalty kick was also critical to the Fire rebounding from a 2-1 road loss to the lowly Portland Timbers on Sunday.
"Its sometimes difficult with road trips," said Klopas. "We came back from Portland, and we had a great response from the group."
The Crew is coming into this match unbeaten (2-0-2) in March, and a 2-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders in Columbus' last outing was especially impressive.
This road trip to Columbus wont be as long mileage-wise for the Fire, but itll lead into another important match Tuesdays first in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Fire will face a minor league club, the Michigan Bucks, on Tuesday at Pontiac, Mich. The Open Cup is more important to the Fire than it is to many MLS clubs. The team has won it four times and fell 2-0 in Seattle in last years final.
On the injury front the Fire came through the Dallas match relatively unscathed and striker Chris Rolfe resumed training with the full squad after nursing a sprained left ankle. Whether hell be available against the Crew, however, is still yet to be determined.
The Fire will lose Pappa for the Open Cup match. Hell be with Guatemalas national team for a match against Costa Rica in Guatemala City.