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updated: 7/14/2012 11:01 PM

Fire changes for the better

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The Fire showed Saturday how it has changed since 2011.

Last year the Fire would have given up a late goal and added to its record number of ties.

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This year the Fire, playing shorthanded the last 21 minutes, showed the character to finish off a 1-0 victory against Vancouver in front of 16,820 fans at Toyota Park.

Last year the Fire missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Fire (9-6-4, 31 points) has matched last year's win total with 15 games to go and would be a playoff team if the season ended now. The club has picked up points in five of its last six matches.

"Definitely," agreed veteran left back Gonzalo Segares. "It's definitely a whole new mentality. Every time we think about the past we know that we don't want to be in the same boat as the past two years. We have to keep moving forward ...

"We're on the right path. We have to keep getting these wins. Last year we would not have won this game, but today we had the right mentality and the right work rate from everybody on the field. It's a great win and a great boost of motivation to go into New York on Wednesday."

Added captain Logan Pause: "I feel that without comparing ourselves to last year we've grown as a group. I think we've put a lot in since last year and we're not really surprised and our hard work in training is getting rewarded in games like this."

Two key reasons for Saturday's win were the two World Cup veterans. Pavel Pardo scored the only goal with a 10th-minute free kick from 23 yards that was pure class.

Arne Friedrich, the German center back, looked as comfortable as he has all season until a dubious second yellow card sent him to the showers in the 69th minute. He'll miss Wednesday's road matinee, but considering his hamstring problems earlier this season, it might be a good thing for him to skip the midweek game anyway.

"As long as he keeps getting minutes, he's going to keep getting better and better," Segares said.

Friedrich was a key reason the Fire shut down speedy forward Darren Mattocks and the Vancouver attack.

The Fire even showed it can win without the departed Sebastian Grazzini, a key step in moving forward without the midfielder, on a leave of absence to address family issues in Argentina.

"We know that the last game we didn't play good," Pardo said of last week's 2-0 home loss to Los Angeles. "... It's very, very important to win today because of the 3 points and we're tied for third place (in the Eastern Conference with New York). It's good for us to stay tied with teams that are in the top."

That's something a Fire player couldn't say in 2011.

Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrinsoccer

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