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Wednesday, October 28

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Fire Mon Oct 06 2008

Not There Yet

On the same weekend the Cubs crashed out of the playoffs and the White Sox kept their playoff run alive, the Chicago Fire visited a minor league baseball stadium and let a chance to clinch a playoff spot of their own slip through their fingers. The way results had panned out around MLS, a victory over the Kansas City Wizards would have guaranteed the Fire a playoff spot with three games remaining. Unfortunately, leading 1-0 at halftime, the Fire gave up an early second half goal and had to settle for a 1-1 tie.

A breakdown of what all this means, after the break.

The bright side: Qualifying for the playoffs too early has proven to be a bad thing for some MLS teams. DC United, in particular, have had a few Supporter's Shield winning sides that suffered in the playoffs for not being as used to "do or die" situations as teams that had to qualify in more dramatic fashion. On that count, it's worth noting that the Fire played well on a tiny field against a Kansas City team that needed a result from the game just to stay in the playoff picture. Also worth noting is that struggling Fire midfielder Justin Mapp showed some signs of life in the match, getting himself into several dangerous positions. If Mapp can get back to the way he played in 2006, team's will have a lot of trouble dealing with both him and Blanco at the same time.

The not so bright side: The Fire certainly need offensive-minded players like Mapp to step up. After a three goal explosion last week against - let's face it - the worst defense in the league, the Fire again struggled to make and take chances on goal. They caught a lucky break when Kansas City' literally handed them a goal, giving away a needless penalty. Also, of concern, the Fire gave up a goal right at the beginning of the second half. One thing coaches at all levels love to harp on is that fact that a high percentage of goals are given up at the beginning of halves, or right after another goal. Concentration, even for professionals, tends to wane at these times. In tight playoff games, the ability to keep focused for the full 90 minutes has a lot more to do with winning and losing than any formation or substitution a coach can make. The Kansas City goal combined with the noticeable let-down after scoring the first goal against LA and the early goal they gave up to Dallas should be reminders that the Fire need to develop a sharper focus if they're going to win the big games.

A less theoretical negative from the game is that midfielder, John Thorrington, will be suspended for next week's game due to yellow card accumulation. Without Thorrington, the daunting prospect of a visit from the league leading Columbus Crew (it feels weird to type that) gets a little more dauntinger. A playoff spot could still come down to the wire, and that may not be a bad thing.

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