Monday, October 16, 2006

Fire Back on Track, Head Into Playoffs

I suppose that when you culminate a stretch where you lose only once in 13 games with a convincing win in the U.S. Open Cup final, a bit of a letdown might be understandable. That's exactly what happened to the Fire, who followed it's trophy-earning win over the Galaxy with two regular season losses, including a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of lowly home, no less.

Concentration, it seemed, had been swayed and what had been the hottest team in the league suddenly looked cold as ice. Not good.

Well, the Fire righted itself over the weekend with a 3-2 win at D.C. United in their regular season finale behind goals from Gonzalo Segares, Nate Jaqua, and Andy Herron. Though the game was void of any postseason implications, it was nice to see the team get back to its winning ways as the playofffs are set to begin.

And the Fire will most definitely need to be at its best against New England, whom they will open up against this Sunday at Toyota Park at 1 p.m. (The game will get the national audience treatment on ABC.) The Revs are unbeaten in their last seven games, meaning they're peaking at just the right time. Clint Dempsey seems to have settled down after some on-field skirmishes earlier in the year and is playing well and riding the high of recently being named U.S. player of the year. Meanwhile, Taylor Twelman may still be ticked off about his World Cup snub and itching to prove his doubters wrong with a title. Toss in the fact that the Revs lost in last year's MLS Cup and would surley likely to right that wrong, and the Fire definitely needs to be in top form in this series.

(Sidenote: Whose bright idea is it to schedule playoff games opposite the Sunday afternoon NFL smorgasborg? Maybe such conflict is inescapable during football season as the college game dominates Saturdays and the pro game Sundays, but scheduling MLS games on weekend afternoons in the fall is ratings suicide. It surely can't help at the gate either.)

In the 90th minute of Sunday's game, D.C.'s Ben Olsen nailed the crossbar with a shot from only a few feet way, directly in front of goal. It was a ridiculous miss by Olsen and a very lucky moment for the Fire, who were desperately holding onto their 3-2 lead at the time. The Unknown Column would like to think that the moment was an omen of good fortune to come in the playoffs for the Fire, a sign that the soccer gods will be looking out for them. At least that's what I hope.

Anything and everything helps when it comes to the postseason, even a little bit of luck.

Here we go now.


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