Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas has been asked about an upcoming big game a lot lately. He's happy to answer it from a different perspective.
"It's another big game," Klopas said after training Wednesday, looking ahead to Saturday's match at Columbus (6:30 p.m., Channel 50). "Every week we talk about the same thing, big game, big game. They're all so big right now."
The difference about this game, of course, is that now the Fire (11-11-6, 39 points) finally occupies the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, meaning trailing teams like Philadelphia, New England and Columbus have put the bull's eye on Chicago.
"It's not going to be easy, we know that," Fire defender Jalil Anibaba said. "It's just a matter of not letting complacency slip into anything that we do. Now is the time to push it harder than ever."
"The good thing is it's up to us right now," Klopas added. "We've worked so hard to get here, and now we just have to take one game at a time and just really focus. I think we've improved a lot as a team, that's for sure, and every game is going to be a playoff game."
The Fire has six games left, but only two are at Toyota Park. The team ends the season at New York on Oct. 27, and considering how the past few weeks have gone, there's a good chance a playoff berth could be decided that day.
This will be the fourth time the Fire has played Columbus this season, with the Fire winning the previous three. The Fire hopes game No. 4 against the Crew has the same result.
"That's the plan, that's the mindset, to keep it going against Columbus and to keep it going against the rest of our opponents for the last six matches," Anibaba said. "If our form is good in the last six matches, we'll be in the playoffs."
The difference this time is that Robert Warzycha has been fired as Crew coach, replaced by technical director Brian Bliss.
Klopas doesn't expect much of a tactical change, but he does expect the Crew players to have plenty of motivation.
"There's always going to be a lift when you change a coach because guys want to push and prove themselves. Guys might get chances that they haven't gotten before. It's a fresh look for some guys," Klopas said.
They're also the only two Fire players to have played every minute of every MLS game this season.
"We're getting down to crunch time and the body feels really good and we're ready for a last push," Anibaba said.
"They're durable players, they're good pros," Klopas said. "I think with certain spots continuity is important."
Anibaba, who joined Berry for a couple of weeks of training at Atletico Madrid last winter, doesn't expect to coast once this season ends.
"We'll see," he said. "Sometimes it's better just to keep the ball rolling."
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