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Crucial but murky week for Fire

The Fire need points to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but Wednesday’s game at Minnesota United is in question because of recent MNUFC COVID-19 positives.

The Philadelphia Union’s Sergio Santos, left, and the Fire’s Mauricio Pineda go after the ball during the first half last Wednesday.
The Philadelphia Union’s Sergio Santos, left, and the Fire’s Mauricio Pineda go after the ball during the first half last Wednesday.
Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

The last week of the Fire season is a perfect microcosm of 2020. The team needs results but can’t be entirely sure about how many games it will actually play.

And, like everything else, the coronavirus pandemic is at the root of all the complications.

As of Tuesday, the Fire’s game at Minnesota United (8-5-6, 30 points) on Wednesday was still scheduled.

The game is in question because United’s matchup Sunday against Sporting Kansas City was canceled on Saturday after a second Minnesota player in four days tested positive for COVID-19.

“I think we are just going to prepare as if we’re going to play Minnesota on Wednesday,” Fire defender Mauricio Pineda said. “I think that’s all we could do, just control what we can control, and if we have the game, that’s not really up to us. So we’ll just prepare as well as we can for that and just see what happens with the league.”

The Fire-Minnesota game was originally scheduled for Oct. 14 but was postponed because of a suspected MNUFC positive. The Fire (5-9-7, 22 points) would like to avoid a repeat of what happened last month, when they traveled up to Minnesota the same day as the game, per COVID-19 safety protocols, but went home without playing after the game was postponed a few hours before kickoff.

After their 1-1 draw Saturday at Nashville SC, Fire coach Raphael Wicky said he hoped to get an answer by Monday or Tuesday about the upcoming match. Understandably, Wicky wanted to fully prepare for the upcoming week and avoid losing a day of productivity, which is what happened in the last excursion to Minnesota, though he also recognized the difficult challenges the league is facing.

“But on the other hand, look, it’s not in our control,” Wicky said. “Everyone tries to do the best they can. Everyone tries to keep people safe, and so we trust the league, and, yeah, hopefully we get a result, and we get an answer sooner than later.”

If the game isn’t played Wednesday, it most likely would be canceled and not made up before the regular season concludes Sunday, when the Fire host New York City FC. The Fire not playing a full schedule would mean playoff qualification in the Eastern Conference would be based on points per game, like in the Western Conference, not overall points.

As of Tuesday, the Fire were ninth in the conference at 1.05 points per game, just ahead of the 10th-place Montreal Impact. To help their chances of staying in the East’s top 10, it would behoove the Fire to turn their performances into points, regardless of format.

“I’m happy with what I see from my team, and I’m happy with the progress over the last 2½, three months,” Wicky said. “That gives me a very positive feeling for the future, whatever happens. But I’m frustrated that we cannot win these games because we came here to win. I mean, a lot of those games in the last two months, 2½ months were there for us to win, as well.

“Yeah, that’s frustrating, but on the other hand, like I said, I’m very happy with a lot of the things I see from the team.”