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Wednesday, May 22

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Fire Mon Oct 01 2012

Weekend Results Drop Fire to Third Place

After a tough 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City SC on Friday, the Fire spent the rest of the weekend watching their nearest rivals make up ground on them as New York, Houston and Columbus all won and DC United tied.

The results leave Chicago in 3rd place in the East, though they can climb back to second with a win against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night. Winning the conference is out of reach unless Kansas City really drops the ball, so the Fire will be looking to shore up a playoff spot in their remaining four games.

Friday night will have to go down as a big lesson learned for the Fire. Facing one of the best teams in MLS in front of a sellout crowd, the Fire tried to soak up pressure from Kansas City and hit them on the break. An early chance for Chris Rolfe almost made the strategy pay off, but after that it was all one-way traffic.

When Graham Zusi scored for Kansas in the 11th minute, it already had an air of inevitability to it. The Fire did well to get to half-time without giving up another goal. Offensively, the Fire couldn't put anything together thanks to Kansas City's high pressing game, and they had to resort to hopeful passes over the top that rarely found a Fire player. Sean Johnson made one ridiculous save and the rest of the time the Fire defense did its best not to wilt under relentless pressure.

In the second half, the Fire came out determined to push the game into Kansas City's half. They threw forwards onto the field, ending the game in what basically amounted to a 4-1-5 formation. Although they ended the match with only shot on goal, they certainly gave Kansas City more to think about but also left themselves open to the counter attack in a wide-open second half. With the Fire gambling more and more to try to find an equalizer, Zusi scored again with minutes left in the game to seal the victory.

Fire coach Frank Klopas capped off a frustrating night by getting himself tossed for complaining to the refs. And honestly, Chicago did not get the rub of the green from the officials, who missed two Fire corner kicks and allowed the game to be very physical - something that played into Kansas City's high pressing approach. But the refs were consistent about what they called for the most-part and it shouldn't take away from the fact that Kansas has a very, very good team.

Another thing that should be mentioned. Kansas City somehow has the best crowd in MLS all of a sudden. They regularly sell out Livestrong Park and the crowd looks as loud and intense on television as any European Soccer fortress. Portland and Seattle get a lot of attention for their fervent crowds, but to me it's more impressive that we're seeing this in Kansas City.

The old Wizards (and Wiz!) games in front of empty seats and bored toddlers at Arrowhead stadium were some of the most embarrassing televised games in the league. The way the new ownership has so completely turned that market around is something I hope the rest of the league, especially the Fire, can emulate.

For now though, the Fire will have to focus on their playoff challenge. They are still a good bet to finish 2nd or 3rd place in the East. The only real difference between the two places is the right to host the deciding final game of the first round of the playoffs. But if they want to get to the MLS Cup Final, barring a major upset, it's looking like that road will go through Kansas City.

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