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By missing the little things, Fire may not find the playoffs
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist

Chicago Fire's Dasan Robinson, right, tries to hold back Philadelphia Union's Sebastien Le Toux from a pass in the second half of Saturday's 1-0 loss to Philadelphia. The Fire is winless in its last five games.


Associated Press

Philadelphia Union's Michael Orozco Fiscal, right, and Chicago Fire's Collins John battle for a header Saturday. After losing to the expansion club on the road, the Fire travels to play Real Salt Lake, which has a 22-game unbeaten streak at home.


Associated Press

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Published: 9/15/2010 1:01 PM

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The end is near.

It was plain to see Saturday night in Philadelphia, where the Fire lost 1-0 to a lowly expansion team.

Supposedly in a playoff chase, the Fire is winless in its last five games. This week the club goes back on the road to defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake, which has the second-best record in the league this year and a home unbeaten streak of 22 games.

And nothing less than 3 points will suffice.

The Fire has eight games left. Toronto - which Tuesday fired coach Preki and director of soccer Mo Johnston - and Kansas City sit between the Fire and Seattle, which has 33 points (San Jose also has 33 points but gets the edge over the Sounders based on games in hand).

Last season RSL got the last playoff spot with 40 points. In 2008 New York needed 39. The Fire (6-8-8) has 26 points to date, and 4-2-2 gets the team to 40 points, if that's enough this year.

Not exactly a likely scenario, is it?

"We still have time, but we're running out," veteran midfielder Logan Pause said after practice Tuesday. "The window of opportunity, we've been talking about it over the last couple of weeks. Nothing is changing other than the fact that these games are becoming more and more must-wins, I think. That window is quickly closing.

"We still have almost a third of the season left. We still have eight games, and the way this league is structured a couple of wins, a couple of results here and there and we're right back on track."

Easy to say, difficult to do, and the players and coaches are professional enough and smart enough to know that. The defense has shown the attention span of a 5-year-old. The attack can't mount much of one; in its last four games the Fire has 2 goals, none in its last two games.

"We do know how to fix it," veteran defender C.J. Brown said. "It's just doing it is the hard part. We talk about it. The guys know, the guys realize. I know they're not going into these games saying, we're not going to pay attention here or we're not going to stay focused. It just happens. The one opportunity that teams get, they tend to bury. That's the tough part. We can't get past that."

That's not what a playoff team does.

"It's an uphill battle," Brown said. "We're not in it, and we need to get in it. We have eight games to make that happen."

"If you really think about and look back at the difference between winning some of those games and tying and losing, there's not a whole lot," Pause added. "It comes down really to those small details. You just have to make sure you minimize those mistakes, you pay attention to detail."

But those small details have big consequences. It's not May anymore.

"It's something we've been very consistent at, is being inconsistent," Brown said. We've had good moments in games, but never really good games."

"Our backs are against the wall, that's for sure," Pause added.

Barring a complete reversal of fortune, it will be only the second time the Fire will miss the playoffs in its 13-year history.

"It comes down to, as cliche as it sounds, it's grinding out results," Pause said. "... Now's the time when true character comes out."

Ristic finally gets a contract: The Fire filled its open roster spot by giving a contract to 30-year-old Serbian midfielder Bratislav Ristic. Ristic has been on trial with the Fire for several weeks.

With MLS freezing team rosters Wednesday, that appears to be the final move Fire technical director Frank Klopas will make this season.