Chicago Fire coach and director of soccer Frank Yallop said he has noticed a difference in his players now that they have a pair of victories following a two-month dryspell.
"There's more laughter," Yallop said. "I guess that's improving. But if you can't enjoy wins then we're in the wrong business. I've noticed a change in them. I would say the relief is there."
The Fire (2-2-6, 12 points) will try to get a third consecutive victory Saturday night (6:30 p.m., Channel 50) at Columbus as it tries to climb the Eastern Conference standings. But there's no denying that 2 straight triumphs has eased the players' burden.
"It's obviously comforting and reassuring to get a couple of wins," defender Patrick Ianni said. "It kind of assures you that we have been doing the right thing. Wins are great, and we hope to keep it going here."
Playing the full 90:
Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Fire, but keeping opponents from doing so has. The Fire has struggled to keep leads, especially in the final 20 minutes of games, something the players and coaches have discussed extensively.
"It hasn't been easy so far," captain Jeff Larentowicz said. "We've done well to get leads in games, but it's maintaining them. I think at the end of games we have to be focused.
"We have to work as a team, defend as a team. I think there's times where, especially as other teams throw more players up front, we get stretched a bit."
The Fire has benefitted from having emerging young players like Harry Shipp, Greg Cochrane and Benji Joya on the field, but their inexperience might be showing in late-game situations.
"It could be," Larentowicz said. "The young players have done well. MLS is a different animal than what they've been experiencing, in either college or elsewhere. But they're learning. I think you learn with each game. You learn with a loss, with losing the lead, and now we learn that you can win games but there's a better way to do it.
"Obviously, that's our job for the older guys to get them in line and make sure we're communicating the right way and make sure they're in the right spot."
The Fire had a few more injuries to deal with this week, and it will show on the field in Columbus.
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko is expected to miss the game with a knee injury, central defender Bakary Soumare will remain out with a calf injury, and right back Lovel Palmer could miss the game with kidney stones. Alex's hamstring injury will keep him sidelined again.
Mike Magee and Logan Pause were expected to be available despite minor leg issues, and Gonzalo Segares is fit again after a severe ankle sprain kept him out for two months.
"There's a few of them that are kind of banged up a little bit," Frank Yallop said. " … It's worrisome we've got a few guys out, but then again we still have enough to field a good team."
Newcomer Grant Ward, acquired via loan from Tottenham, is working his way back to full fitness after foot surgery and has trained with the team. Yallop said he could be available for selection as a late-game substitute Saturday.
"He's looked good. Although he's only had a couple days of full practice, he was doing a lot at Tottenham before he came over. I just didn't want to risk him right away with our group," Yallop said.
"He's anxious to get going."
Who are those guys?
The Fire's depleted ranks forced assistant coaches Clint Mathis, C.J. Brown and Brian McBride into action during a scrimmage Thursday. Frank Yallop didn't join the fray, however.
"Not a chance," he said with a wry smile. "They're all in their 30s. Well, Brian's 41, he's closer to me, but I've got nine years on him."
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