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Paunovic looking for a miracle for Fire’s postseason hopes

Chicago Fire defender Rodrigo Ramos clears the ball away from Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during a game earlier this month in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic has taken an optimistic approach when it comes to reversing his team’s struggles.

So it should come as no surprise that Paunovic still has his sights on the playoffs.

Earning a postseason berth seems like a long shot considering the Fire (4-9-5) are in last place and bring a 34-game road losing streak into the game Saturday against the New England Revolution (5-7-8).

Four of the Revolution’s five victories have come at home, making the Fire’s attempt to snap their MLS-record road losing streak even more difficult. But that’s where Paunovic’s glass-half-full approach comes into play.

“It’s a matter of time [before] things will start to work for us better on the road,” Paunovic said this week. “We don’t give up on playoffs this year.

“I believe in miracles. I’ve seen them happen in soccer many times to me and even against me. Right now, I’m in a position where I can expect them. I want everyone to believe in that, and during that time we have to work, stick together. We have to give our best.”

Given the way the MLS season has gone, Paunovic has made the Fire’s quest for their fifth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship the priority. In preparing for the quarterfinal game Wednesday night at Toyota Park against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a 3-0 victory, Paunovic chose not to have goalkeeper Sean Johnson, defender Jonathan Campbell and forward David Accam travel for the loss to FC Dallas on Saturday.

Accam, Michael de Leeuw and Khaly Thiam scored for the Fire, who will face the Revolution in the semifinals Aug. 9. The site will be determined in a drawing at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Although Paunovic has included a U.S. Open Cup run as one of the Fire’s goals, he understands the importance of league play and trying to salvage what has been a frustrating season.

The addition of de Leeuw has helped spark the Fire, as has rookie defender Brandon Vincent, who was named to the MLS All-Star team. Vincent became the first Fire player to earn a spot since 2013.

Sky will be without 2 centers

Sky centers Erika de Souza and Clarissa Dos Santos will miss the team’s next two games as they begin preparations for the Olympics with Brazil’s national team. De Souza is averaging 5.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Dos Santos is averaging 1.9 points per game.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.