Chicago Fire must quickly adjust to playoff atmosphere
More photos Hide photos
Chicago Fire players and coaches had The Talk on Monday morning.
No, not that talk. The talk a team with next to no MLS playoff experience needs to have. The talk to let players know this season is about to get real.
The Fire will host the New York Red Bulls at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park in the knockout round.
"It's incredibly different," said Fire veteran midfielder Dax McCarty, one of the few players on the team with MLS playoffs experience, "in every sense of the way. I can't stress that enough.
"The little details, they become even finer. The margin between winning and losing is so thin that the team that is sharper on the day, the team that is more physical on the day, the team that works harder on the day, that's usually the team that's going to give themselves the best chance to win."
None of the current Fire coaches or players were with the club when it last won a playoff game in 2009, or even when it last qualified for the playoffs in 2012.
"Everyone shared their experience in how the playoff is and how their thoughts during the playoff," said Ghanaian midfielder David Accam, who has been with the Fire for three seasons, giving him seniority on all but a couple of teammates. "It's good stories. It's a great feeling."
"It was very important, the input from all of them," coach Veljko Paunovic added.
Only guys like McCarty, Juninho and Arturo Alvarez have played in the playoffs before, though with other clubs. German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger gets a pass, having won the World Cup and a UEFA Champions League title.
The learning curve needs to be steep for everyone else.
"Playoff games are not like regular-season games," McCarty added. "They're just not. And then add on to that the fact that it's one game, 90 minutes for the right to advance. And that just amplifies everything even bigger."
Actually, Wednesday's game could go 120 minutes if it is tied after 90. And if that's still not enough, the pressure would rise again if penalty kicks have to determine who advances.
The Red Bulls have plenty of playoff experience, having gone every year since 2010, all but one of those seasons with McCarty. They know how the playoffs are much more physical, how much more heart and energy, in McCarty's words, a team must be willing to give.
"Because if it's not, especially playing a team like the Red Bulls, you're in for a really rough night," he added.
It will help if Schweinsteiger can play. He hasn't played since Sept. 30 due to a leg injury, and even then only 19 minutes after missing the previous four games.
"I feel OK," he said Monday.
Will he play Wednesday?
"It's a secret, you know," he said with a wry smile.
Juninho also is working his way back from a knee injury, as is rookie Daniel Johnson. They would add much-needed depth.
"We expect them to be ready, we expect them to be back. We'll see again, we have one more day to prepare," Paunovic said, hesitating to say whether they'll be ready to go 90 minutes, or even 120.