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updated: 7/18/2014 2:10 PM

In weak Eastern Conference, Fire can still make playoffs

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  • With the Fire's defense rounding into shape, a little more offensive scoring, led by Harry Shipp (19), Mike Magee, left, and Quincy Amarika (24), would boost the club's chances to earn a playoff spot this season.

      With the Fire's defense rounding into shape, a little more offensive scoring, led by Harry Shipp (19), Mike Magee, left, and Quincy Amarika (24), would boost the club's chances to earn a playoff spot this season.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Fire has a tremendous opportunity to return to the MLS playoffs this season.

Really. That's not hyperbole. Frank Yallop has not taken over this column.

The Fire should be able to work its way into an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Not that the Fire is that good. At 3-4-10 (19 points) at the season's midway point, clearly it's not.

The East really is that bad. It won't take much for the Fire to cross that red line into the fifth and final postseason berth.

New England is in fourth place in the conference, but the Revolution is on a seven-game losing streak and looked like a weak college team in Wednesday's 5-1 loss at Los Angeles. New England is in free fall. Rocks don't drop from skyscrapers this fast.

Fifth-place New York? Decent, not great.

No need to fear sixth-place Philadelphia, the Fire's opponent Saturday at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m., Channel 50). Despite the best efforts of interim coach Jim Curtin, a former Fire defender, the Union still has a suspect defense. Saturday's game represents an opportunity for the Fire to send a message and pick up a valuable 3 points.

Seventh-place Columbus? The Crew has been falling longer than New England, going without a win since its May 24 game against the Fire. Columbus needs to buy a book on the power of positive thinking.

Which brings us to the eighth-place Fire.

The defense has slowly but surely steadied itself, with goalkeeper Sean Johnson's goals-against average climbing from the bottom of the league rankings. The Men in Red even picked up their second shutout of the season last week at New England.

New midfielder Razvan Cocis, signed Monday, seems like he'll be a decent addition, someone who should become a starter shortly after arrival. He's not a designated player, so he isn't putting a huge dent in the salary cap. The Fire still has roster spots available, including international slots.

A top-notch scorer could be just what the Fire needs to blow past Columbus, Philadelphia, New York and New England. Nothing against reserve forward Matthew Fondy, but there's a reason he was available for the team to sign a few weeks ago. That he stepped off the unemployment line and into the Fire's game-day 18 says a lot about the team's lack of depth up front.

If the Fire still needs salary-cap space, Cocis probably will be stealing playing time from Alex. The Brazilian carries a $133,700 salary, according to MLS Players Union numbers, and now has his green card, so he doesn't require an international roster spot. Figure him as a candidate to follow Austin Berry and Chris Rolfe out of town via trade within MLS to clear space.

Want another candidate to leave? Midfielder Dilly Duka has been the odd man out lately, getting no closer to the field on game days than David Caruso will ever get to an Oscar. That's despite an overloaded schedule and injuries to Patrick Nyarko and Benji Joya. If he's in Yallop's doghouse, he's not likely to get out when Nyarko and Joya recover.

The Fire learned the last few seasons that no matter how bad it starts a season, a decent second half can go a long way toward a playoff spot. This team just has 4 points to make up. An aggressive move during the summer transfer window that closes Aug. 6 could have the team again making Halloween plans that don't involve trick-or-treating.

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@Orrin_Schwarz.

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