The Fires three-game winning streak is history, but the scoreless draw garnered against the Houston Dynamo in a Tuesday night road match wasnt all bad.
At least it kept the Fire (8-5-4) unbeaten in four games and solidly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Fire earned 10 points in its last four matches and went 3-2-1 in six straight against Eastern Conference rivals.
"Every time you are on the road and you can walk away with a point its good," said Fire coach Frank Klopas after his team hit the midway point in its 34-game Major League Soccer schedule. "Now we are back home for two games, and its important for us to push that situation and try to get some wins. Im happy with the performance of the guys."
He should especially be happy with the performance of 23-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who is playing better with each game after getting a slow start to the season due in part to national team commitments.
Johnson needed to make only two saves, but he was in charge defensively in earning his third shutout of the season.
"For 90 minutes we fought and to come away with a result without giving up a goal on the road is huge," said Johnson. "We will take the point."
The Houston match was the first of two back-to-back against the MLS Cup finalists of 2011. The defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy (6-9-2) comes to Toyota Park on Sunday. The Galaxy, which hosted the Philadelphia Union on Fourth of July, started slowly but had a three-game winning streak before losing 4-3 to the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium last Saturday. The Quakes (11-4-3) are the best team in MLS with 36 points, three more than Eastern Conference leader D.C. United.
In earning the tie at Houston, the Fire stayed four points ahead of the fifth-place Dynamo (6-5-6) in the East. Playoff-watching is appropriate going into the second half of the regular season, as the Fire out of postseason play the last two years is five points behind United, three behind second-place New York and one back of third-place Sporting Kansas City in the East. D.C. has played 18 games, the Fire and Red Bulls 17 and SKC 16.
The Fire got through road matches at SKC and Houston without Argentine midfielder Sabastian Grazzini, whose status remains uncertain for the Galaxy visit on Sunday. Klopas, acknowledging the hot playing conditions of the previous two games in the middle of a three-games-in-10-nights stretch, held Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, out of the Dynamo match and substituted for two of his key offensive players early. Alex came in for Dominic Oduro after only 58 minutes and Marco Pappa came out in the 72nd, Orr Barouch replacing him. Oduro has been a workhorse, having played in all 50 matches since the Fire acquired him in a trade with the Dynamo last season.
The scoreless match marked only the fourth time the Fire has been blanked this season. The clubs only other scoreless match came May 9 against Real Salt Lake. Also of note, the Dynamo has yet to lose (4-0-3) since moving into new BBVA Compass Stadium on May 12.
Sundays match could mean a rare appearance by iconic David Beckham, who has played just twice the last time in 2008 -- at Toyota Park. The former England captain sat out the Galaxys match on Wednesday for yellow card point accumulations.
The Fire expects a different type of game vs. L.A. than the last two matches both on the road against conference rivals in hot weather.
"These last couple games we played smart and picked our moments going forward," said Patrick Nyarko. "At home its going to be a different story, because at home were going to push the game offensively."
The Fire is 5-1-2 in Bridgeview, its best start through eight home games since moving to Toyota Park in 2006.