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updated: 8/23/2012 7:48 PM
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You know that harsh beeping or buzzing sound many alarm clocks offer?

The Fire heard that sound Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.

A defense that hadn't allowed more than 2 goals in a game all season lost to D.C. United 4-2 in an all-important -- we know, at this point in the season, they're all important -- Eastern Conference matchup.

Even after Wednesday's loss snapped a three-game winning streak, the Fire is tied for third in the East, a point up on fifth-place United, 5 points behind first-place Sporting Kansas City.

In other words the Fire is right in the thick of the action. The top five teams make the playoffs, but the fourth and fifth seeds have to fight it out to get to the conference semifinals where it will face the top seed.

There's a benefit to being in the top three.

"We knew how important this match was, but what's done is done, and now we must lift our spirits, learn from our mistakes and continue to improve," midfielder Marco Pappa said.

Which is a good way of saying the Fire knows it can't afford to keep playing like a second-division team.

"I think we came out too casual in certain situations," Fire coach Frank Klopas said. "We have to be more alert and more focused. I think that teams must earn the goals they score against us, but some of United's goals were a little soft and we could have prevented them. We did perform well in some aspects and I am happy with the team. It's just little things, like opening your hips or looking at both references -- the guy with the ball and the player making the run -- that can make us a tighter team. I think that we have to regroup now. We have a little break of 10 days, which will let us to get some of our players healthy and allow us to get ready for some big, exciting games coming up."

But that break won't be long enough to get Logan Pause healthy, and Pause's absence was felt keenly. It's not just the captain's leadership ability, but Pause is a bulldog defensively, able to break up opponent's attacks, which is why he remained on the field no matter which player the club added to the roster.

If you're looking for an under-rated Fire player, Pause probably is your guy, and this space probably has been guilty of under-rating him too.

Pause suffered a pair of broken ribs and pneumothorax two weeks ago in Philadelphia. He's expected to be out another 2-4 weeks. He probably won't be ready when the Fire hosts Houston, with which it is tied for third, on Sept. 2, so the Fire will have to figure out how to defend its Toyota Park turf without him.

Here's a hint: score first for once.

Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz

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