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Fire Tue Oct 04 2011

Fire Pull Themselves Together in Second Half

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for fire crest.jpgHot damn! With all the excitement over the new school year, football season, and Dancing With the Stars (Hope Solo's gonna prove goalies have good feet too!), I bet you all forgot that the Chicago Fire were still playing!

But they are! And they're doing great! They're even within spitting distance of making the postseason! More important, they're hitting their stride just in time for the U.S Open Cup final against Seattle Sounders FC, set for Tuesday night in the Pacific Northwest. It's a golden chance to win some championship hardware in an otherwise dismal year of soccer for one of the most successful clubs in MLS history.

Let's dive in!

After earning only two wins in league play for their first four months of the season (but so, so many draws), Chicago has closed out their summer with incredible momentum. Since August 21, they've gone 5-1-1 in MLS league matches, scoring 14 goals. The surge has put them only three points behind the New York Red Bulls for the final playoff spot, with three games left to play. Their opponents won't be pushovers, but two of the three are at home. It's a golden time to head on out to Bridgeview and yell your throat out to keep this momentum coming.

But first! Tuesday night the Fire have the chance to become the first MLS team to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup FIVE times, which is quite the accomplishment when you consider that MLS clubs have only existed and participated in this tournament for 15 years. Sure, it's true that an MLS team has won the cup every year but one (way to go '99 Rochester Rhinos!), but for one specific club to win it so often is still an aberration.

On the other hand, Seattle has been trying to prove themselves the class of MLS since they joined the league, which they've done as far as this tournament is considered, winning it in their inaugural season in 2009, defending it successfully last year, and now with a chance to get the three-peat on their home turf. For those that aren't aware, the Pacific Northwest has a storied soccer history and appreciation, and it's most clearly seen in the importance this club and its owners place in winning this cup. It's an importance unrivaled by almost any other team--but the Fire are the one team who can claim to match it.

Additionally, the atmosphere in Seattle is one of the few in MLS that is truly electric each and every game. With a championship on the line, you can bet every one of the Sounders' 30,000+ in attendance will be yelling their heart out.

But Chicago lately has shown a fantastic ability to silence a crowd, getting early goals in several games. The midfield of Marco Pappa (MLS Player of the Week for his hat trick in their 3-0 victory against Real Salt Lake) and Pavel Pardo have figured out the timing for speedy forward Dominic Oduro, and the Ghanaian has scored 12 goals this year--tied for 5th in the league alongside Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski, and more than doubling his previous career best in a season (5).

Another reason to watch will be one of the last chances to see Seattle goalkeeper and former U.S. international Kasey Keller, who plans to retire at the end of this MLS season. His career has spanned the globe, with stints in the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga. He's one of only two Americans to have been named to four FIFA World Cup rosters, playing in two of them. If you're a fan of the Fire, you're a fan of soccer in America, and Keller has had as big an impact on the U.S. National Team as any man.

So there you have it. The Fire may not make the postseason this year, though their recent run of form certainly bodes well for that cause. In any case, they've got a great chance to still call this season a success. Watch them on Fox Soccer Channel at 9 p.m. if you can, or head on out to a bar to cheer them on in a tournament that's been going on since 1914.

That is, if you can get the room to agree to turn off the baseball.

Sigh.

 
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