Fire remain positive despite playoff loss

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Fire remain positive despite playoff loss

By Jeremy Mikula
CSNChicago.com contributor

Despite being eliminated in the Knockout Round of the Eastern Conference playoffs Wednesday, the Chicago Fire remain positive about their season.

"Hundred percent," striker Chris Rolfe told CSNChicago.com when asked if the season was considered a success for the club. "17 wins is unheard of since I've been here. The guys have a lot to be proud of; the coaching staff has done such a great job. Right now it's hard to say and look back at the way it went, but when we've kind of calmed down and take a look back, well see how special a year it was."

The Fire qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and amassed a 17-11-6 season -- good for fourth place in the East with 57 points. However, the season would come to end Wednesday night at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, who came into Toyota Park and walked away with a 2-1 win.

For captain Logan Pause, the loss should serve as a building exercise for a team largely devoid of MLS playoff experience.

"The big thing is for the guys to know and understand the feel," Pause said. "First of all for what it takes to get here, which is one element, and then the feeling of getting knocked out, which is one we don't want to feel."

"It's a hard one to swallow right now," Pause added. "But I'm proud of where this group has come over the last year. I don't think anyone thought much of us at the beginning of the year, missing the playoffs two years in a row. There are elements where it was a success, but we're in the business where we want and need to win championships."

The Fire fell behind in the 13th minute when Will Bruin scored his first of the night on a Brad Davis corner. Seconds into the second half, Bruin completed his brace when he slotted home in the 46th minute past Sean Johnson.

Chicago managed to pull one back through second half substitute Alex, who replaced Pause at the interval. Alex's 83rd minute goal put the Fire within touching distance, but ultimately Houston held on to setup a showdown with Sporting KC on Sunday.

One highlight for the Fire in the match was veteran German centerback Arne Friedrich, who put in a performance at both ends of the pitch.

"Unfortunately it was not enough," Friedrich said of a performance that saw him both defending and leading attacks. "We were down, I saw some opportunities so I wanted to push. It's really sad because we played a really good season. But this is soccer."

Friedrich joined the Fire in the offseason after cancelling out of his contract with Bundesliga side VFL Wolfsburg. Despite playing in two World Cups and a European Final with Germany, and numerous seasons in the Bundesliga, a championship has eluded him.

"There was a great chance this season, but I guess we were a little lazy," said Friedrich, who hopes to extend his one-year contract with the Fire. "We could have won some winnable games against Philadelphia at home and at New England. But we have to learn from that. The team has a good spirit, a good character, and everybody can learn from this season and the mistakes we made."

Although by no means a rookie, Friedrich is nonetheless a rookie when it comes a postseason that determines a league champion. In most soccer leagues, the team at the top of the table by seasons end is crowned the champion.

"It's cool, I like," Friedrich said of the new experience. "We'll see at the end who wins, but for teams like Kansas City or San Jose its really hard because one game and they could be out. But for teams like Houston who finished in the fifth position, everything is possible, so I like this."

With the season now over for the Fire, the team has indicated a return to the postseason in 2013 is a goal.

"The most important thing for us is winning an MLS Cup," said Rolfe, the team's MVP and Golden Boot winner."It's going to be the same thing next year, just keep pushing ourselves and try to get further than we did this year."

Preview: Fire get another shot against Orlando Saturday on CSN after recent draw

Preview: Fire get another shot against Orlando Saturday on CSN after recent draw

 

In one sense it shows how far the Chicago Fire have come that the players and coaches are looking at a draw on the road against a team in a playoff spot as a disappointment.

That’s how the Fire are looking at the 0-0 draw at Orlando on June 4. Granted, the context of the Lions being down a man for over an hour and finishing with only nine players explains the disappointment.

Still, the Fire are hoping to correct that result when Orlando comes to Toyota Park on Saturday. Coverage begins on CSN at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

“It was just a good opportunity for us to get three points in that game,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We feel like they actually took something from us so I think the guys are aware of that, that we have another opportunity to win (against) our opponent from the conference and a very good team. We have to be at our best. This game is very important.”

The Fire (9-3-4, 31 points) enter with an eight-game unbeaten run in MLS play. Orlando (7-5-5, 26 points) has one win in its past 10 games and has drawn three straight.

The Lions head to Toyota Park without Cyle Larin. The third-year pro has 39 goals in his career and had eight in 15 games before getting suspended following a DUI arrest. The absence of its leading scorer is obviously a big loss for Orlando.

“Obviously they’re going through a little bit of a difficult stretch right now in terms of just off the field stuff and in terms of how the results on the field aren’t great,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We know they’re a good team though. They’re a dangerous team. They won plenty of games already this year and they have a lot of dangerous players.”

Goalkeeper Jorge Bava is out with what is being called left elbow tendinitis, but David Accam figures to be returning. Accam sat out both the U.S. Open Cup game at Saint Louis FC and the game last Saturday at New England. Both of those games were on turf, but Paunovic said his absence was not related to the turf.

“He didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game and we always want to be smart with how we manage the minutes and the load for the guys,” Paunovic said of Accam.

Accam was in training this week.

Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City

TV: CSN Chicago (Spanish language broadcast with Hector Lozano and Raquel Ortiz on CSN+)

When: Coverage starts at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

Records: Fire (9-3-4, 31 points), Orlando (7-5-5, 26 points)

Dax McCarty has 'fingers crossed' in hopes of playing in Gold Cup

Dax McCarty has 'fingers crossed' in hopes of playing in Gold Cup

Since Bruce Arena took over as national team coach, Dax McCarty has been regularly called in to join the Americans.

The Chicago Fire's 30-year-old midfielder was recently with the U.S. for a pair of World Cup qualifiers. He didn't play in either game, a 2-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago and a 1-1 draw at Mexico, but got to enjoy the experience of the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

“Awesome experience. Definitely a game that doesn’t matter if you play or don’t play," McCarty said. "Definitely a game you’ll never forget. I think it’s probably one of the most historic stadiums in the world. A lot of history there. A lot of bad memories for the U.S., but I’d say the reason you go down there is to try to make good, new memories."

Michael Bradley scored a jaw-dropping goal with a chip from just inside the halfway line before Mexico answered later in the half. The U.S. has never won at the Azteca, but this was a second straight draw in World Cup qualifying there.

McCarty hasn't played in a qualifier yet, but has been included on each of the three rosters Arena has been able to call in since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann. The U.S. is 2-0-2 in qualifiers under Arena and appears back on track to make the 2018 World Cup.

"Win your home games, you draw on the road, that’s a recipe for qualifying," McCarty said. "We’re back on track now and I think everyone has really good spirits heading into the next round of qualifiers and the Gold Cup.”

The Gold Cup is a chance for McCarty to not only be on the team, but get some playing time with the national team. In early June, he was included on the 40-player preliminary roster for the Gold Cup (along with Fire teammate Matt Polster). That group will be cut down to 23 for the final roster, but does not feature many of the European-based national team regulars, meaning players like McCarty could see bigger roles.

McCarty said he doesn't yet know if he will be included in the final Gold Cup roster, which is expected to be announced this weekend.

“The coaches gave me great feedback, but until a final roster comes out or until I’m notified that I’m part of the roster you never know for sure," McCarty said. "Fingers crossed. I’m hoping to be there and I guess we’ll find out in the next week.”

Training camp for the Gold Cup will begin on June 25 with a friendly against David Accam's Ghana on July 1 before the tournament opener takes place July 8.