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Fire Mon Oct 29 2012

Fire Face Elimination Game With Houston

While they spent most of the season at the top end of the Eastern Conference, a poor finish to the regular season saw the Fire back into the playoffs with a fourth place finish. The team now hosts a tricky single elimination game against 5th seed Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Toyota Park.

While Houston hasn't exactly lit up MLS this season, it is a tough playoff draw. They made a run to the MLS Cup Final last year, and have a squad full of players that know what they are doing in the playoffs. Their manager, Dom Kinnear, has coached in big games and knows what it takes to win in a one-off occasion. Another advantage they have: when they played this weekend they already knew they'd finish in fifth place. They didn't care about winning, rested some starters, and aren't coming off the same kind of disappointment as the Fire.

The Fire, meanwhile, played DC United in a game that could have seen them finish anywhere between second place and fifth place. They took control of the game early, scored through Patrick Nyarko, could have scored another, then took their foot off the pedal. DC United scored an equalizer and bunkered down defensively, knowing that a tie would put them in second place. The Fire threw everything forward, missed three chances that seemed easier to score, and ended the game with a tie that felt like a loss.

The DC result came after a disappointing loss to New England, where Arne Friedrich was rested to avoid field turf and Sherjil MacDonald was confused by seeing football markings for the first time. Whatever the reason, the Fire have not played a solid 90 minutes since they clinched a playoff spot in New York.

It's a worrying sign. The type of focus and intensity needed in the playoffs can't be turned off and then back on. If the Fire are going to go anywhere in the playoffs, they need to find a way to put together a complete performance and they can't let chances go begging the way they did against DC.

If they can get past Houston, it won't get any easier. Their next matchup is a home and away series against top seeded, Kansas City. On the plus side, if they can run the gauntlet through the Eastern Conference, results this weekend mean the Fire could host the MLS Cup Final if Seattle, LA, or Vancouver win the Western Conference.

 
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