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updated: 10/24/2017 7:39 PM

Back in playoffs, Chicago Fire focus on new goal

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  • New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe fends off Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty as Rowe makes a move to the goal during the first half of their MLS Soccer match in June. After a prolonged absence the Chicago Fire is back in the Major League Soccer playoffs. That just means it's time to set a new goal. "Now that we're in the playoffs, we're going to go for it, and I think there's no other way to look at it," McCarty says.

    New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe fends off Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty as Rowe makes a move to the goal during the first half of their MLS Soccer match in June. After a prolonged absence the Chicago Fire is back in the Major League Soccer playoffs. That just means it's time to set a new goal. "Now that we're in the playoffs, we're going to go for it, and I think there's no other way to look at it," McCarty says.
    Associated Press File Photo

 
 

Where the Chicago Fire is involved, leave it to midfielder Dax McCarty to put things in perspective.

In this case it's the Fire's return to the Major League Soccer playoffs after a five-year absence. The Fire plays an Eastern Conference knockout round game against the New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, FS1).

"It's what you play the whole season for," said McCarty, as direct and forthright as ever. "Obviously if you don't get a chance to win the Open Cup or win the Supporters' Shield you've got nothing left. This is all you have."

The team could just be happy to be back in the playoffs, especially considering it was the worst team in MLS the last two seasons. Then again it might want to end another streak: The Fire hasn't won a playoff game since 2009.

"I think a goal of ours going into the season was, make the playoffs," McCarty said. "That's the bare minimum requirement for success. And we've accomplished that goal. And now your goals have to reset.

"Now that we're in the playoffs, we're going to go for it, and I think there's no other way to look at it. Play like there's no tomorrow. Use any cliché that you want, but at the end of the day, there's only going to be one team happy at the end of the season, and that's the team holding the MLS Cup."

The changed midfield:

At one point the Fire midfield was the team's strength, an embarrassment of riches.

Then the injury bug struck.

One by one Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, Michael de Leeuw and Daniel Johnson have suffered injuries and missed significant time. And that doesn't include John Goossens, sidelined since the season opener, and David Accam, who is playing through a hip injury that will require postseason surgery.

"I don't think injuries are an excuse," said McCarty, who has remained healthy but missed a few games for U.S. national team duty. "We've lost some great players, but every team does."

The Fire has relied on two homegrown players -- Djordje Mihailovic, an 18-year-old from Lemont, and 23-year-old Drew Conner, from Cary -- to fill a lot of minutes. Actually, they've done much more than just fill time.

"The young guys, the homegrown guys that have stepped in, have actually been fantastic," McCarty added. "I think they've done really well. You can see that there's a little bit of cohesion that's missing, I'll say, because when you have young guys, usually it's a little bit of a roller coaster. You get some great games, you get some poor games."

Showing respect:

The Fire lost once this season to the Red Bulls and tied them once.

"It's going to be a very tough game against Red Bulls," midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. "I think every game which we were playing against them this season was tough, or tight as well. But we are looking forward."

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