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Wednesday, May 22

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Fire Sun Oct 07 2012

Fire Celebrate Anniversary and Prepare for Playoffs

For a minute, it looked like the sky was falling. A tough loss against Kansas City, followed by a demoralizing home loss to the Philadelphia Union had the Fire looking over their shoulders, in danger of missing out on a third consecutive playoff birth. The Fire responded by rolling up their sleeves and putting on a perfect road performance with a 2-0 win against a star-studded New York Red Bull team to clinch a playoff spot just in time for their 15th anniversary celebration.

The theme from the players going into the game was "back to basics" and it certainly showed on the field. The Fire closed down space on New York quickly, chased every loose ball, and defended from every position with an intensity that was only matched by coach Frank Klopas, who might have covered as much ground in the coach's box as the players did on the field - an impressive feat considering Frankie was wearing dress shoes.

It wasn't all mindless huffing and puffing, though. Tactically, the Fire got back to being hard to break down defensively and breaking quickly with numbers. It meant keeping a good shape without dropping off New York, so that they were always under pressure in the Fire's half. It also meant keeping concentration for 90 minutes to deal with New York's dangerous attacking trio of Kenny Cooper, Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry.

But who needs Thierry Henry when you've got Sherjill MacDonald? His hold up play has been phenomenal since he's been in Chicago, and it was again a big feature of the win against New York. He's also set Chris Rolfe up for a number of his goals. But the knock on him has been that he doesn't score enough for a lead striker.

He changed that with a breakout performance and two goals (doubling his season total). The first goal saw a role reversal, with Chris Rolfe turning provider, and the second off a great outside of the foot pass from Daniel Palidini. It's great to see goals starting to come from MacDonald, as he's proven he can do everything else you need out of a striker.
The win, plus Sunday's 1-1 draw between Columbus and Kansas City, means the Fire have clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2009.

With a week-long international break and only Alvaro Fernandez travelling to World Cup qualifiers, the Fire have the chance rest up and prepare for the playoffs and the push to fend off New York and DC to keep from dropping down to a tricky wildcard game. But for now, it's enough relect on the club's history, and to say job well done to Frank Klopas and his squad on getting the Fire back where they belong after two seasons in the wilderness.

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