At this point in the MLS regular season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach more fixated on scoreboard watching than Fire head coach Frank Yallop.
In the weeks since handing the New York Red Bulls a 3-2 defeat on Aug. 26, results elsewhere around the East have - to some degree - kept the Fire's playoff prospects in check.
Beginning Aug. 29, the Men in Red embarked on a pivotal three-game road stint, which featured in-conference clashes with Orlando City SC, Montreal Impact and the Red Bulls. Yallop’s men emerged with one point, six goals scored and eight conceded.
Conceding ill-timed goals - soft ones, Yallop would admit - has hurt his side of late, however. It’s a stark reality, and one that - through 28 games - has led to dropped points and allowed Montreal to stretch their point-gap over Chicago to six points. It also prompted the second-year head coach to sift through statistics and get to the root of the problem himself.
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“I looked at a stat yesterday: we’ve been leading in eight games, and out of those we’ve lost four and tied four,” he said. “(If) you see two or three of those games through, then right now we’re sitting here and saying, ‘We’re doing well.’ It’s a fine line, and we can’t lose (sight) of what’s gone on in our season.”
Of those eight, in only two of them did the Fire relinquish points at home after going in front: against Orlando City (a 3-2 loss on June 6) and against the New England Revolution (a 2-2 draw on July 25).
Before returning north of the border for another road swing against Montreal and Toronto FC, the Fire (7-15-6, 27 points) return home to face Orlando City (8-13-8, 32 points) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+), one of three remaining fixtures at Toyota Park.
“It’s huge,” Yallop said Thursday of the importance of home-field advantage, where the Fire have won 22 of their 27 points this year. “We’ve got to win this game to give (ourselves) any chance of getting even a look at the playoffs.”
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Though slim and perhaps convincingly out of the question in the eyes of a frustrated fanbase, a postseason berth to Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp is a feat that, while not mathematically out of reach, will necessitate a considerable deviation from the mentality that has seen the Men in Red fixed to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table for much of the campaign.
"It's going to be tough for us," Shipp said of the team's playoff aspirations. "We're going to have to get on a roll, and do something we haven't done so far this year. For us to say, 'We've got to just keep doing the same things we've been doing and it'll turn around' isn't really the answer because it hasn't worked when we're 80 percent of the way through the year."
- Adaílton (core muscle repair surgery) jogged around the field at training on Thursday, and engaged in some separate, individual drills off to the side (ladder work, planks).
- Kennedy Igboananike (ankle strain) did not train fully until Friday. Gilberto (back/hamstring tightness) trained fully on Thursday and Friday. Both are expected to be available for selection vs. Orlando City on Saturday.
- Eric Gehrig has been dealing with a plantar fascia issue - essentially heel pain - and has been receiving treatment on it throughout the week. His availability for Saturday will be determined closer to kickoff.
Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.