Bakary Soumare says he’s having the time of his life.
“It’s one of the most exciting seasons I’ve played, going to games knowing a tie isn’t good enough,” Soumare said.
Easy for him to say. Soumare missed the most stomach-churning, eye-rolling portion of this roller-coaster season, the injury-filled dreary spring months when the Chicago Fire suffered its worst start in its 16 seasons.
But Soumare, who joined the team in late May, has been around long enough to see that even since then, nothing comes easily for this team. Not when it dropped points in the last five minutes of three September games. Not Saturday when the Fire nearly watched a 3-0 lead evaporate at Dallas, escaping with a 3-2 victory.
Yet somehow the Fire has survived all that to fill the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games to play. With a little help and a win, the Fire can clinch a playoff berth Saturday night at a standing-room-only Toyota Park against Toronto FC (7:30 p.m., Channel 50).
“It’s exciting,” Soumare said. “It keeps everyone on their toes, it keeps everyone motivated. It’s not always the easiest when every game matters big-time. For the past, since I’ve got here, it seems like every game has been a must-win. It’s been a must-win because we fell behind early. It’s been good. It’s been very exciting for me as a player.”
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” midfielder Dilly Duka added. “We have an opportunity this weekend to steer it our way. It’s a big game. We’ve got to take full advantage of it. We have to step up and really direct our ship.”
Call it a team of survivors if you want, but Soumare has other ideas.
“Survivors not so much,” he said. “It’s more like being part of a team that doesn’t give up. Part of a team that has pride. We always knew there was going to be a chance. We always knew there was going to be a point we were going to turn to and say we started playing better, started getting results. Now we have almost an identity and we play hard. Everywhere we go we try to get points.”
With few home games in the stretch run, they’ve had to go on the road to get those points, and they succeeded, getting 3 points at D.C. United and again at FC Dallas.
“People don’t realize the mental toll on us players and the coaching staff,” Soumare said. “But personally it’s the part I love the most. People go to work every day and they grind. We’re doing the same thing here. We’re enjoying this. It’s exciting and we don’t take it for granted. It’s been a hard season, and a lot of people wrote us off.”
“It’s a lot of credit to a lot of people who worked so hard to keep the group focused and to learn from the adversity,” added coach Frank Klopas, who gets a lot of the credit from Soumare.
So what should fans expect from these final two regular-season games?
“They should expect some crazy soccer,” Duka said.
Hasn’t it been crazy enough already?
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