HARRISON, N.J. -- Despite sitting in second place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, there isn't much talk of the Chicago Fire winning the MLS Cup. And that's after an emphatic 2-0 away win over the New York Red Bulls, who are considered among the early championship contenders.
Still, there is a growing belief in Chicago's locker room that the team can turn heads in the postseason.
"We have a special group, you could see it today especially," Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson told Goal.com after Chicago's victory. "Our mentality didn't change, we came to New York and dictated our style of play. Going forward, our mentality as a group will take us a long way."
According to most fan and media projections for the MLS Cup, Chicago has yet to get a nod.
Sporting Kansas City, San Jose, Real Salt Lake - heck, even the dysfunctional Red Bulls - have all been picked as potential winners ahead of Frank Klopas' team. Yet, Chicago has quietly formed into a well-organized team that is peaking at the right time.
The Fire are 5-0-2 since the start of September and are currently tied with Real Salt Lake for the league's second-best overall road record with a 6-3-7 mark. The team doesn't have a set style of play but appears to grind out results, which is a credit to Klopas' weekly tactics. Even when the team suffered a blip, losing two games prior to playing New York, it was determined to send a message this past weekend.
"We came together a little bit in the last two weeks," said defender Arne Friedrich. "Before it went perfect, we won almost every game, then we lost two times in a row and maybe it brought us a little bit closer. I’m happy that we lost before the playoffs start because in the playoffs there’s no room for losing games."
Staying relatively healthy for the first time in years, Friedrich has become a valuable addition for the Fire. Famously known for slowing down Cristiano Ronaldo during the 2008 Euros with Germany, the former Hertha Berlin center back has brought veteran savvy to the Fire's backline. Johnson praised Friedrich's impact on defense.
"I can't say enough about him. He keeps everyone calm around him. Including myself, he's been fantastic for us throughout the season, " Johnson stated.
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Another newcomer who might bode well for Chicago is Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald. The Dutch striker was the man of the match against New York, receiving two precise killer passes off of counterattacks to score twice. It was the first time that MacDonald proved to be worth his DP status and the former West Brom player admitted that he is finally finding his fitness.
"My stamina is getting better because I played a lot of games in a few weeks," MacDonald said.
Having a chance to see MacDonald impress in practice, Johnson says that he is expecting big things out of the forward heading into the playoffs.
"I don't know if there's a player more passionate than him about scoring goals," Johnson said. "He always talking about wanting to be sharp and now he is. Players getting sharper and sharper with the playoffs [approaching] is huge for us."
The Fire are hitting a grove at the right time even if no one on the team wants to openly admit that the MLS Cup is the goal. After all, why place unnecessary expectations if there isn't any pressure one way or the other?
"We just need to stay focused," Klopas explained. "The most important thing is that we have a team that believes. We have a very good group, a committed group.
"We have to stay level headed, we haven't achieved anything yet."
- New York Red Bulls
- Real Salt Lake
- New York
- Frank Klopas