For the Chicago Fire, Sunday's matinee against the Houston Dynamo is just the latest must-win match.
"We've played them twice so we know what they're about," Fire defender Austin Berry said after training Thursday. "It's not going to make them any easier to stop. It's going to be a hard game. It's going to be hot, so it's going to be like playing in Houston."
The Fire owns a tie and a loss this season against Houston. Another loss Sunday (2 p.m., Channel 50) would cause serious damage to the Fire's playoff hopes. A limited number of tickets remained for the match as of Thursday afternoon.
The Dynamo is just one spot ahead of the seventh-place Fire (10-10-4, 34 points), separated by 2 points. But getting the 3 points needed to pass the Dynamo means shutting down a good attack. That falls to Berry and his teammates on the back line, which last weekend earned the Fire's first clean sheet since June 2.
"The guys up top make really good runs," Berry said. "They're big, big bruisers, with (Will) Bruin, (Cam) Weaver, (Giles) Barnes, whoever's going to be in. They're going to compete. They're going to get balls wide, swing them in. They're good in the air, and it's going to be a battle."
Berry, 24, has started all 24 of the Fire's MLS games so far this season, playing 2,160 minutes. He insists fatigue is not a problem.
"I'm feeling good, especially with the one game a week we've been having," Berry said.
Coach Frank Klopas added fatigue is not an issue at large for the Fire. Just the opposite: every player wants to get on the field.
"We've got to stay focused," Klopas said. "We've worked very hard to put ourselves in the spot we are right now, and there's a lot to play for. I think everybody's excited. I'm sure everybody wants to play. That's a good thing.
"You're always going to have guys that are going to be disappointed if they don't get on the field or they don't dress. That's all part of it, managing that. After you make the selections I think in the end everybody cares about the team, wants the team to be successful."
The homeland calling:
The Fire will lose midfielders Arevalo Rios (Uruguay) and Joel Lindpere (Estonia) to national-team duty for the upcoming MLS road games at Seattle and Toronto. Rios, a designated player, was just getting familiar with his teammates.
"We've got plenty of guys that can step in, whether it's Danny (Paladini) or Logan (Pause)," Berry said. "We've been used to them playing the last couple of years, so it should be an easy transition."
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was not called up for September's World Cup qualifiers by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando got the call as the No. 3 goalkeeper instead.
An unusual situation:
For one of the few times all season, the Fire has no injuries to report.
"Is there wood somewhere?" coach Frank Klopas asked jokingly. "Knock on wood, it's been good."
"You're going to go through it during the season. I think most teams do. But it's good now toward the end to have everybody."
ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas followed up on the editorial posted last week at chicago-fire.com with some harsh words, calling Fire owner Andrew Hautpman "weak" and "thin-skinned."
Through a spokesman, the club declined to comment on the reaction to the editorial. Major League Soccer also declined to comment on the editorial, a spokesman said.
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