Fire, Crew battle one another for playoff spot

Fire, Crew battle one another for playoff spot
September 20, 2013, 4:00 pm
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Len Ziehm

Ante Razov’s productive career with the Fire came to an end on Jan. 30, 2005, when the club traded its all-time goal-scoring leader to the Columbus Crew for midfielder Tony Sanneh.

On Saturday they visit the Crew in still another do-or-die match for both teams in the battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. At this stage of the season, more than any other, it’s all about team, but everybody loves a goal-scorer and the Fire finally has one in position to do what Razov could never do.

Razov scored 76 goals for the Fire from 1998-2004 but never won Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot. In his best season of 2000 he scored a Fire-record 18 goals, but Tampa Bay’s Mamadou Diallo scored 26. No Fire player is even close to Razov’s career total. The club’s second career goal-scorer, Chris Rolfe, has 48.

Now the Fire’s playoff drive has a secondary sideshow in Mike Magee. He has 16 goals, so could break Razov’s one-season record with three in the remaining six matches. Magee could also become the club’s first Golden Boot winner. He goes to Columbus two goals behind this season’s Golden Boot leader, Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio. Magee and Di Vaio will be on the same pitch in another week, when the Impact comes to Toyota Park on Sept. 28.

While team success remains tantamount, it’s interesting to view Magee’s chase of the Golden Boot from a different perspective — that of Razov’s. His relationship with Magee goes way back to his early years with the Fire.

"I was familiar with Mike as a child, when him and Michael Bradley helped clean shoes and observe training," said Razov. "They were about 12 years old then, just little rascals running around the locker room picking up stuff."

Michael Bradley was the son of the Fire’s first coach, Bob Bradley. Michael and Magee both lived in the northwest suburbs and played soccer together on youth teams.

The Razov-Magee connection goes far beyond that. Razov played for Bradley on subsequent MLS clubs. His playing career started with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Then he spent his best years with the Fire before finishing with stints with Columbus, the New York-New Jersey-based MetroStars and Chivas USA. He retired in 2009 and now coaches the Galaxy’s under-18 team.

Along the way Razov and Magee were briefly teammates on the MetroStars when Bob Bradley coached that team. Magee was also with the Galaxy when Razov entered the coaching ranks with Los Angeles.

"I could see his development," said Razov. "He hit his stride the last couple years in LA. He didn’t score all that much in the regular season, but in the playoffs he was The Man."

[MORE: Fire put themselves back in the playoff mix]

Magee volunteered to be traded from the Galaxy earlier this season when the Los Angeles brass wanted to acquire Robbie Rogers, whose MLS rights were owned by the Fire. The deal materialized on May 25 and Magee was a smash hit immediately in Chicago.

"The trade had a more human side to it," said Razov. "There was (Magee’s) family involved. The Fire has benefited, and it’s been OK for the Galaxy."

Like Razov, Magee has been a productive goal-scorer without having much involvement with the U.S. national team.

"That happens around the world with successful club players," said Razov. "They’re not involved with national teams, but I don’t put much into it. Mike’s a great player."

Magee has gone out of his way to downplay his goal-scoring accomplishment all season, and Razov insists that he’s not bothered by his not winning the Golden Boot during an MLS career that saw him score 114 goals.

"It would have been nice to win it, but fans remember teams that win titles, not players who win scoring titles," said Razov. "(In Chicago) we had fantastic teams. We won four cups (the MLS in 1998 and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup three times), and we had big names. I’m proud that I was always leading that line, but individual honors aren’t relevant."

Razov attended last year’s Fire reunion, which honored teams that won both the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in 1998 — the club’s first season.

"It was very emotional to see people who really care for the club," he said. "Those were very special years, to come out of the gate like that."

The Fire hasn’t won an MLS Cup since 1998 and hasn’t taken the Open Cup since 2006. Thanks to a shocking upset home loss to D.C. United in the semifinals, the Fire won’t win the Open Cup this season. The MLS Cup is still a possibility, but the Fire has to make the playoffs first.

Last week’s pulsating 2-1 home home win over New England put the Fire (11-11-6) in playoff position for the first time. The Fire stands fifth, and five make it to postseason play, but the six remaining matches will be critical. Columbus (10-14-15) is in eighth place but still isn’t out of it. The Crew — featuring Dominic Oduro, the Fire’s top goal-scorer just two seasons back — has won two of its last three matches since Brian Bliss took over the coaching reins from Robert Warzycha. Last Saturday the Crew snapped Montreal’s six-game home unbeaten streak with a 2-1 victory. Oduro has scored 10 goals for Columbus since the preseason trade in which the Fire acquired midfielder Dilly Duka and the rights to Rogers.

While the Fire sits in the No. 5 position, getting to No. 4 and dropping to No. 8 are distinct possibilities in the final six weeks of the regular season. Fourth-place Houston has 40 standings points with six games left — four of them at home.

The Fire, with 39 points, also has six matches left but Saturday’s match in Columbus is the first of four remaining on the road and the Fire hasn’t been very good away from Toyota Park, owning just a 2-6-4 record on enemy fields.

Sixth-place Philadelphia also has 39 points, the Fire owning the tiebreaker at the moment, with five games left. No. 7 New England has 37 points with six games left and Columbus is on the brink of elimination with 35 points and five left on the schedule.

The Crew has lost to the Fire three times this season — 1-0 at Toyota Park on April 20 and 2-1 at Columbus on June 22 in MLS play and 2-1 at Toyota Park in the June 13 Open Cup quarterfinals. The Fire has traditionally played well in Columbus, owning a 10-7-6 lifetime record there.