After draw against Dynamo, Fire playoff hopes fading

After draw against Dynamo, Fire playoff hopes fading
September 2, 2013, 9:30 am
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Len Ziehm

A return to the Major League Soccer playoffs will be extremely difficult for the Fire now.

After a dismal 2-7-2 start to the season the Fire charged into playoff contention with an 8-3-2 spurt and a home win on Sunday against the Houston Dynamo would have finally put the Fire in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The Fire (10-10-5) did its part to get there for 89 of the 90 minutes at Toyota Park, but that wasn’t quite enough. With the Fire backed up in a defensive mode Houston’s Adam Moffat blasted a shot from the right side inside the far post to give his team a 1-1 draw.

"Just a minute before that we were dropping back and holding.  We just have to be able to maintain that," said defender Gonzalo Segares.  "We stopped moving the ball.  We couldn’t put two or three passes together and get the ball back."

So, instead of passing the Dynamo (10-8-7) and New England Revolution (10-9-7) and claiming the fifth and last playoff spot in the East, the Fire remained saddled in seventh place. New England has 37 points in 26 matches and owns the No. 5 spot over Houston using the goals-scored tiebreaker. The Dynamo also has 37 points, but in 25 matches, and the Fire 35 in 25.

With nine games left in the regular season the Fire is far from dead in the playoff race, but six of those matches will be on the road – and enemy fields haven’t been friendly to the Fire this season.  Only two teams (Toronto FC and D.C. United) have a road record worse than the Fire’s (2-6-3) in the Eastern Conference.

The Fire’s next two matches will be on the road, and Saturday’s trip to Seattle will be particularly difficult. Not only are the Sounders (12-8-4) a difficult opponent, but the match will be played on artificial turf.  The Fire hasn’t won on that surface in 11 matches (0-9-2), the last victory coming at New England in 2010, and the Sounders have lost only once in their last 11 home matches.

Adding to the Fire’s problems, the club will be without veteran midfielders Arevalo Rios and Joel Lindpere, both on national team duty for the next two matches thanks to the World Cup qualifying schedule.  Rios, a steadying influence defensively as a starter the last three matches, will be with Uruguay and Lindpere, a sometimes starter who came off the bench on Sunday, joined Estonia.

Captain Logan Pause may finally get back on the field with Rios gone, though Daniel Paladini offers another option. The Fire is deep at Lindpere’s spot, with Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko more than capable of filling any minutes Lindpere might get.

Regardless of the challenges ahead, Sunday’s result will be hard to forget. Even though it wasn’t a loss, it seemed that way.

"It’s tough the way you lose in the last minute, but that’s how it is sometimes," said Fire coach Frank Klopas.  "It’s disappointing.  We have to make sure we play all the way to the end."

The Fire scored first off Mike McGee’s corner kick in the 36th minute. Jeff Larentowicz went up for a header, but the ball wound up on the head of Houston’s Bobby Boswell instead. It went into the net for an own goal. The 1-0 lead was a good omen for the Fire, which has yet to lose a match with Klopas as the bench boss when it scores first.

With Sunday’s outcome not officially a loss, the Fire stands at 27-0-6 when scoring first in the Klopas era.

The Fire had plenty of chances to score again, the best coming when Magee put a shot off the post in the 73rd minute. The good effort before a crowd of 17,808 went for naught when Moffat scored, Houston’s first road goal in 370 minutes across all competitions. Dominic Kinnear, the Houston coach, was happy to just get away with a draw after enduring a match in which the Fire got off a whopping 21 shots and Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall was required to make seven saves – some of them difficult ones.

"They’re fighting for their playoff lives, we are also," said Kinnear.  "There’s going to be swings in momentum, but I was just glad to see the momentum swing back to help get us a goal and a point."

"In the end it feels like we lost some points," said Larentowicz.  The Fire is still a solid 8-4-2 in Bridgeview, but won’t play there again until New England visits on Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, the Dynamo has a chance to pass the Revolution with a win at Columbus on Wednesday. After the Fire visit to Seattle both Houston and New England have Sunday home matches, the Dynamo facing New York and the Revs taking on Montreal.