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Can Fire earn a win when it counts?

The Fire can clinch a playoff berth by beating New York City FC in their regular-season finale Sunday, but this team can’t be counted on to grind out victories.

Coach Raphael Wicky and the Fire would clinch a playoff spot with a victory Sunday.
Courtesy of the Fire

The Fire can clinch a playoff berth by beating New York City FC in their regular-season finale Sunday.

But this team can’t be counted on to grind out victories.

The Fire didn’t win a regular-season road game and enter the matchup at Soldier Field without a victory in five games. In their first 22 games, they turned two 2-0 leads into 2-2 draws and have been plagued by costly mistakes in front of both goals.

“Yeah, what is it?” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “Is it focus? Concentration? Is it bad luck? Is it quality? I cannot tell you. I can’t give you the answer.”

Even without a victory over NYCFC (11-8-3, 36 points), the 10th-place Fire can still sneak into the 10-team Eastern Conference playoffs if other results go their way. But the enlarged field should mute any celebration if the Fire do advance, and qualification shouldn’t silence questions about why they made it so hard on themselves and whether the club made any tangible on-field progress this year.

Wicky, of course, thinks the Fire (5-9-8, 23 points) have made strides and doesn’t think the last week of the season is a referendum on the team.

“It shouldn’t be — the two last games shouldn’t define if this was a good first year or bad first year,” Wicky said. “It’s honestly the way we play, what we do, how the team progresses, and that’s something which right now gives me a lot of positive feelings. But we know that we want to transform that into winning. That’s the step we need to work on.”

That couldn’t be more true, and the 2-2 draw Wednesday against Minnesota United was the latest proof that the Fire don’t really know how to pull out wins.

They scored the first two goals and could’ve had another, but Djordje Mihailovic skied an open first-half chance over the net. In the second half, the Fire were trying to see out the match against an opponent that already had clinched a playoff spot, but they allowed MNUFC to cut the lead in half when Jose Aja wasn’t marked well on a free kick, which set the stage for United’s late equalizer.

This was hardly an isolated incident.

Defender Jonathan Bornstein conceded as much Wednesday, saying, “Obviously, if we knew the answer, we would try to fix it as quickly as we could.

“You know, just got to be a little bit more mature as a group and know how to manage the game a little bit better. I think we’re growing as a team. We have made leaps and bounds in terms of building the group and being able to create results at the beginning, but lately we haven’t been able to finish out games. So it’s definitely something we’ve got to work on, and hopefully next game we can figure out how to get that win and close out the game.”