Jalil Anibaba figured he had enough reason to celebrate Saturday night.
"You can't ask for a better birthday than that," the 25-year-old right back said after a 1-0 Fire victory against Toronto FC at Toyota Park. "We got the win, we got it in front of the home crowd, and it was fantastic."
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The Fire would have had even more to celebrate had New England not pulled out a 3-2 victory against Columbus, preventing the Fire from clinching a berth in the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs. The Fire can decide its own fate Oct. 27 at New York in the regular-season finale.
Coach Frank Klopas insisted he wasn't disappointed not to clinch.
"No, it's exciting," Klopas said, admitting he checked the New England score at halftime. "... The one thing we talked about is just making sure that we just focus on what we have to do and take care of business ourselves, because regardless of the other scores, if we don't get the 3 points tonight, it doesn't really matter what happens with the other teams.
"We put ourselves in a great spot, the team stuck together and I think all these games, the adversity in the beginning (of the season) has made us a better team. And I think you get better through difficult moments. I feel this team right now is better in that sense than the team I had last year winning 17 games."
"I think it's good for us," midfielder Patrick Nyarko added. "It keeps us on our toes and keeps us concentrated. I always think back to last year when we clinched early and we took our concentration off a little bit and it didn't help us going into the playoffs. This momentum is building."
The Fire (14-12-7, 49 points) moved up to fourth place in the conference pending Sunday's game between first-place New York and sixth-place Houston (13-10-9, 48 points). This is the first time this season the Fire has been as high as fourth place.
The Fire had control of much of the game, but finishing its shots was a problem, hitting the woodwork three times. Mike Magee finally broke the deadlock in the 64th minute when he chipped a penalty kick over Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei, tying Montreal's Marco Di Vaio for the league scoring lead with his 20th goal of the season, 14th in a Chicago kit.
Magee was named team MVP before the game, and goalkeeper Sean Johnson was voted Defender of the Year.
The shutout was the Fire's sixth of the season.
"It wasn't easy, but if we learned anything from this year it's just to stay the course," Anibaba said. "That's what we did tonight and it paid off and things are looking up for us. We're really excited for what the future holds."
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