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Fire Mon Aug 29 2011

Fire Stay Alive With Two Wins in a Row

Thumbnail image for fire crest.jpgDon't look now, but due to the generous Major League Soccer playoff system and the fact that 15 ties earned them 15 points, the Chicago Fire are only five points out of a playoff spot with eight league games remaining.

With two consecutive 2-0 victories against Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids, Chicago is now sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just five points shy of the New York Red Bulls for the last wild card spot. Sure, they have to leapfrog four other teams, but, that's not literally impossible, right?

After two previous ties, the wins give the Fire a four-game unbeaten streak, but more importantly, their first winning streak in league play since April of LAST season. It's only their third and fourth league wins on the year, but with 15 draws, that's enough to keep them in distant playoff contention.

The first win came against fellow basement-dwellers Toronto FC a week ago, when Dominic Oduro and defender Dan Gargan (who was recently traded to the Fire by Toronto) scored on either side of the half. Oduro got a foot on the end of a low, driven cross from the left side by Gonzalo Segares, redirecting the ball past Milos Kocic in the 16th minute.

Several Toronto chances (including a shot off the post) later, and on the other side of halftime, Gargan punished his old team by heading in a corner kick from close range that the goalkeeper Kocic somehow let bounce inside his own six-yard box. Staying on his line, the goalkeeper was unable to react in time when Gargan powered it in under the bar from the back post.

The win snapped a 10-game league winless streak, and gave them their first league win at home since the home opener on March 26. It also gave them much-needed confidence, heading into this weekend's match with the defending MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids.

With the Rapids coming into Chicago off a game against Real Espana in Honduras due to the CONCACAF Champions League, there was certainly the chance for the Fire to capitalize on a tired side and they certainly took advantage of that with a fast start Saturday.

Dominic Oduro scored in the 17th minute, his ninth goal of the year (and fourth in five games) to put the hosts ahead before Chicago could find their footing. Oduro's goal puts him tied for fifth in the league along with three others, three behind leader Thierry Henry.

Midfielder Pavel Pardo sent Oduro running with a long pass up the right sideline, and the striker used his speed and strength to hold off an onrushing defender, slotting the ball underneath goalkeeper Matt Pickens who came out to challenge.

Veteran defender Cory Gibbs doubled Chicago's lead just 18 minutes later, despite the run of play. Working a nice give and go along the left side of the box with Pardo, midfielder Sebastian Grazzini lofted a ball into the box from the endline that Gibbs beat out his marker to get his head on, sending the ball into the net past a flailing Pickens.

With three league games in a row at home, it was well known that Chicago had to capitalize, and earning two wins and a draw certainly qualifies. Their next MLS game is Sept. 10 at San Jose, but Tuesday they host the Richmond Kickers in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. As mentioned before, this is Chicago's best chance to win some hardware this year, and with the possible sites listed for the final already by the U.S. Soccer Federation, possibly the last chance to see them play live in this tournament.

So the Fire live on, gaining precious ground in the playoff race. There's still much that's out of their control, but being five points out with eight games left isn't the worst place you can be -- particularly when you're so good at clawing at least one point out of seemingly every match.

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