Arne Friedrich might be new to the concept of postseason games, but he understands just how important the Fire’s regular-season finale is for playoff position.
“Our one goal is to win the game, but it’s a very good exercise for the upcoming playoff games, because then every game is important,” the German World Cup veteran said after discussing what a victory Saturday (3 p.m., NBC Sports Network) would mean.
A win and the third-place Fire passes United to retake second place in the Eastern Conference. A draw or loss and the Fire could drop as low as fifth place and find itself on the road in a midweek playoff play-in game for the right to meet top-seeded Sporting Kansas City.
Yes, the Fire is in the playoffs regardless, but the way MLS has it set up this year, teams really want to avoid that 4 vs. 5 play-in game, or as Friedrich calls it, the “relegation game.”
“The players know the importance of the game,” coach Frank Klopas said. “I don’t need to say much. It’s a chance for us to reach some goals that we set and also lock up second place, so they know what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake is increasing the odds of advancing to MLS Cup and increasing the chances of hosting the MLS Cup at Toyota Park on Dec. 1.
The winner of that play-in game not only has to play Sporting Kansas City, it has to play three playoff games in a week and a half. For a team that starts four 30-somethings (assuming 36-year-old Pavel Pardo is healthy), that’s a tough road.
Want more reasons Saturday’s match is so important? The Fire really doesn’t want to go into the playoffs riding a two-game losing streak, even if Klopas doesn’t want to emphasize that point.
“It’s important. Every game is important,” Klopas said. “But we have an opportunity to play for our 18th win.”
Still, it is possible to overemphasize the importance of this game. After all, the season won’t end no matter the result. And the Fire has shown some resilience this season.
“Yeah, for sure, but we have shown in the past even if we lost two games in a row and we lost pretty bad, then we were able to come back,” Friedrich said. “But in my eyes we have to take care of our defensive shape. Everybody has to defend very well. Of course, in the playoff games it’s very important to give up as less goals as possible.”
That was a problem the last time the Fire played United, a 4-2 road loss in August, one of the worst defensive performances of the season for the Fire. United is one of the hottest teams in MLS now, undefeated in its last six matches despite losing 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario to injury.
United won’t give up that No. 2 spot without a fight. The kind of lackluster performances the Fire showed last week at New England or Oct. 3 in a 3-1 home loss to Philadelphia won’t fly anymore.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.