Fire hoping to extend five-game unbeaten streak

Fire hoping to extend five-game unbeaten streak
June 16, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Len Ziehm

Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe not. 

The vastly improved Fire will try to extend its five-game unbeaten streak and end a four-game homestand against an opponent that just went through an unusually emotional match. The Colorado Rapids will visit Toyota Park on Wednesday in a foul mood.

On Saturday night the Rapids lost 2-1 at home to the struggling San Jose Earthquakes, a match which saw Colorado’s six-game unbeaten run and San Jose’s four-game winless streak come to an end. But that’s not all.

The Rapids played shorthanded most of the way after midfielder Atiba Harris was handed a red card for a brutal tackle on San Jose’s Alan Gordon. There wasn’t much doubt about the red card being deserved, but there was plenty of debating later. Colorado fell behind 2-0 but got one back on Nathan Sturgis’ goal in the 67th minute. Before and after there was plenty of bickering.

In the end San Jose (4-6-6) got the win in Mark Watson’s first game as head coach. He replaced long-time boss Frank Yallop after San Jose’s slow start to the season. Watson apparently kicked a ball at Colorado midfielder Hendry Thomas in the 48th minute, and they had words about that.

After the match players on both sides needed to separate Watson and Colorado coach Oscar Pareja, who then extended the arguing with ``discussions’’ with Earthquakes Chris Wondolowski and Jon Busch.

After a cooling off period Pareja said the post-game antics were ``Nothing. Normal things.’’

They didn’t look like nothing, though, and now the Rapids (5-5-5) come to Bridgeview after falling out of a Western Conference playoff spot. Colorado and the Los Angeles Galaxy have 20 standings points apiece, but the Rapids have played one more game than the Galaxy, so Los Angeles has possession of the fifth and last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Fire, despite its recent run of success, is still 10 points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Despite two draws and one win in MLS matches and two victories in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in its last five outings the Fire is just 3-7-3 in league play.

This is a good time for the Fire to make a move because the schedule is friendly at the moment. After the homestand ends against the Rapids the Fire goes to Columbus on June 22 and then has three more matches in Bridgeview – an Open Cup quarterfinal against minor league Orlando FC on June 26 and MLS battles with San Jose on July 3 and Sporting Kansas City on July 7. SKC hold the last Eastern playoff spot at the moment.

Still, the Fire has blossomed since the arrival of striker Mike Magee in a trade with Los Angeles. Magee has a goal in all four of the matches he’s played for the Fire. He hasn’t solved the Fire’s season-long problem of starting its matches slowly, however. The Fire fell behind Portland 2-0 in its last MLS match on June 8 before rallying for a 2-2 draw. The Fire also gave up the first goal in Thursday’s 2-1 Open Cup win over Columbus.

``The Portland game, we dug ourselves out of that, but that was too much work to do on a weekly basis,’’ said Magee. ``We need to correct that sooner rather than later. It’s just mentality, soccer IQ. We’re not going to get out of these holes every time.’’

``It’s not ideal, because sometimes you run out of time and you can’t come back all the way,’’ said midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who scored the game-winner in the last match. ``We just need to be ready from the start, and that’s something we’re working on.’’

Magee, a key member of Los Angeles’ MLS Cup champions the last two years, thinks his new teammates are learning.

``All that matters is winning,’’ he said. ``The sooner we put together a full 90 minutes we’re going to be a hell of a team.’’