Chicago Fire keeps playoffs within reach
For weeks now the Chicago Fire has been teetering on the edge of playoff viability. On Saturday night against the first-place Philadelphia Union, the Fire showed a desire to teeter a little longer.
With a 2-0 victory despite playing the second 45 minutes down a man, the Fire pulled within a point of the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"The hardest thing to do is try to end a team's season," said Philadelphia coach and former Fire defender Jim Curtin. "And they're professionals and they came out with a lot of intensity.
" ... We just weren't sharp enough on the night. Chicago deserved the points."
The Fire (8-11-9, 33 points) still has a long way to go to make the playoffs, however. It remains in 10th place, and the four teams ahead of the Fire in the standings each have a game or two in hand. The Fire also has only two of its final six games at home, and it has won just once on the road this season.
But don't tell the Fire the playoffs are impossible.
"The spirit of that locker room right now is starting to really, really believe in a comeback," coach Veljko Paunovic said.
"Things are turning around for the better," added midfielder Brandt Bronico, "and, you know, I just think that so-called luck is on our side."
The Fire got 2 first-half goals from forward Nemanja Nikolic, who scored for the fourth consecutive game and is now second on the club's all-time scoring list. He has 11 goals on the season after a very frustrating start.
The Fire looked like it would be in big trouble when midfielder Nico Gaitan earned a red card just before halftime. But the 10-man Fire looked even stronger in the second half than it did in the first. Nikolic played a role in that too, keeping the Union from throwing everyone forward early in the half with a couple of threatening runs at goal.
Fire goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm picked up his third shutout of the season since joining the Fire on May 7. He looked very shaky in his first few games, but he was solid against the Union. He saved 4 shots.
The difference, Paunovic said, is that Kronholm is feeling more comfortable and confident now.
"I believe that he's managing very well the game. ... Today he had a couple of very good saves," Paunovic said.
The Fire goes on the road to sixth-place New England (9-9-8, 35 points) next Saturday.
"The spirit is amazing, and I just cannot wait for the next game to come," Paunovic said.