The Chicago Fire really didn’t want to go limping into the playoffs.
Saturday afternoon’s 1-1 draw against D.C. United means the Fire finished the MLS regular season in fourth place and fell into the Eastern Conference play-in game, which the Fire will host Wednesday (8 p.m.) at Toyota Park.
“The good thing is we’re still hosting a game here,” Fire coach Frank Klopas said. “We’ve got to move on and get ready for the game.”
But the Fire (17-11-6, 57 points) could have avoided that midweek match altogether had it earned just 1 more point somewhere over the last seven months.
Chicago is 1-3-1 in its last five matches, not exactly the kind of momentum the team hoped for heading into the postseason for the first time since 2009.
“It is disappointing,” Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. “It stinks, especially (because) we had the opportunity to win this game and had opportunities in the past to clinch it and stuff like that. It’s just disappointing having to play another extra game.”
The Fire looked good when it took the lead in the 16th minute on Nyarko’s goal off a Sherjill MacDonald assist.
After Nyarko’s goal the Fire went on the defensive, with second-place United (17-10-7, 58 points) controlling the bulk of the possession. That possession edge paid off for United in the 50th minute on Lionard Pajoy’s header, tying the game.
“I think we sat back a little too deep,” Nyarko said. “They’re a very good team, they’re a very good passing team, so that’s the mistake we made in trying to make them pass it around and not push them up and not put enough pressure on where the service came.
“There was no pressure on the service and he made a great run and he finished.”
Twice United goalkeeper Bill Hamid stopped strong MacDonald chances, one in each half, to show why he’s in the U.S. national team player pool. Hamid finished with 8 saves, but the Fire also couldn’t get some of its best chances on frame.
“I think the biggest chance I had was the first half, the one that (Chris) Rolfe laid off for me,” MacDonald said. “The other ones were just unlucky, you know?
“The last one I was out of balance. I tried to reach it the ball, I hit the ball, but I was totally out of balance. Sometimes it falls in the net, sometimes no, you know?
“But I’m not worried about it. If you’re a striker you’re going to miss a lot of chances and hopefully score a lot. Off to the next game.”
“I always have that belief that no matter where you start from, if you play your cards right you can come back and win an MLS championship,” Nyarko said. “It’s just one extra game.
“Luckily enough we’ve got it at home. We don’t have to travel. I think the guys are concentrating, we’re starting a fresh, new slate, and hopefully we take care of Houston and then move on.”
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