Do or die for Columbus Crew
Now that the Chicago Fire are in playoff position, they hope to remain there by continuing their recent success against the Columbus Crew.
The visiting Fire go for a sixth consecutive victory over the Crew when these rivals conclude their season series Saturday night.
Chicago (11-11-6) moved into the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when it ended a three-match winless stretch with a 3-2 home victory over New England last Saturday. The Fire's 39 points match Philadelphia, but they own the tiebreaker with one more win than the Union.
"We are very excited to be in the position," said coach Frank Klopas, whose team hasn't won two straight matches across all competitions in 2 1/2 months. "We are not happy where we are but it is a step to where we want to be."
The Fire are four points ahead of eighth-place Columbus (10-14-5).
Besides beating the Crew home and away in MLS play this season, Chicago won 2-1 in U.S. Open Cup action June 13. Including that non-league victory, the Fire have won eight of nine against the Crew and outscored them 9-4 during a five-match winning streak.
"You want to think about those things you did well, but it's always tough to continue to get good results against teams in this league," midfielder Jeff Larentowicz told the Fire's official website.
"It's a new story now, we haven't played them in a couple months. A lot is on the line for us and a lot is on the line for them."
Columbus has won two of three under interim coach Brian Bliss, who replaced the fired Robert Warzycha earlier this month. The Crew snapped an 0-7-1 road slide in league play with last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Montreal.
"It's really a playoff game for us," Bliss told the team's official website. "We've got to do the same work we've been doing the past three weeks, but just be totally focused on the task at hand. We're still in it."
Bliss also knows what a victory over Chicago can do for his team's mental approach going forward.
"(A win) could break a psychological barrier as well," he said. "I don't know how many guys are in the locker room thinking about losing to Chicago three straight times, probably not many.
"But certainly for the psyche, breaking that cycle is good for the guys and good for the group. It's important that we get the right result on the weekend."
Columbus forward Dominic Oduro scored 18 league goals for Chicago the previous two seasons, but has been held without one or an assist in two matches against his former club in 2013. He did score the tiebreaker in the 78th minute at Montreal to give him a team-high 10 goals.
Traded the other way in the February deal that sent Oduro from Chicago to Columbus, Dilly Duka has a goal and an assist in two of the Fire's last three matches. Duka and Mike Magee scored in a 2-1 victory at Columbus on June 22 in the teams' last meeting.
Magee has 10 goals in 16 matches since Chicago acquired him from Los Angeles on May 24.