The Fire could’ve allowed their season to end after squandering a two-goal lead to the Crew. After what happened and the long playoff odds, it wouldn’t have been surprising if that match broke this year’s Fire.
Instead, they’ve won their next two matches, including Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders.
“We just did not want to lose this game tonight,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “I’m so proud of the players because it’s so easy throughout this year, this first six-seven months to just give up, but they never did. They never, ever gave up.”
Of course, the Fire still have miles to go before recovering from their 10-game winless streak and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. They’ll have to win more regularly on the road and consistently string together solid performances.
Yet with 13 games left, the Fire are three points out of seventh place and have a chance, which is a lot more than most would’ve expected in the wake of the debacle against the Crew. And perhaps the Fire’s response is partially due to a lengthy team meeting they held before Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Toronto FC.
Hendrickson said they talked about the points they’ve thrown away this season, and how the Fire could be 12 or 15 points better if not for those miscues.
“They weren’t going to stop fighting,” Hendrickson said.
“We were so disappointed and we knew we had to change something,” said captain Rafael Czichos, who scored the game’s lone goal in the 23rd minute. “I think we have enough quality to play good soccer, and I think we’ve been showing it a lot this year already, that we have a good team.
“[Losing the Columbus match] was mentally really, really difficult for us and I think we got together as a team and I think the last two games showed that we are learning.”
The Fire hope they won’t have to learn how to play without Gaston Gimenez for too long. The Fire designated player left in the 37th minute with a hamstring injury. Unfortunately for the Fire, they were also without Jhon Duran (left ankle) after his two-goal breakthrough Wednesday.
Still, the Fire held off the Sounders, who have struggled since winning the CONCACAF Champions League in May but were on the attack for much of the second half. Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina recorded his ninth shutout, and perhaps his biggest save came when he turned away Jordan Morris in the 88th minute.
Slonina, though, was already looking ahead to the Fire’s match Saturday in Vancouver.
“Obviously, we’re right there now,” Slonina said. “The playoffs are… we can make it. I believe in this team, I believe in the coaching staff and the belief they instill in us, so I think if we just keep plugging away in training and believing and having that confidence of how we played, I think that we’ll be in good shape for Vancouver this weekend.”
NOTE: Per reports, Slonina has reached an agreement on personal terms with English Premier League club Chelsea.
“There’s a lot of talk going around, but I think the main focus is on Vancouver this weekend,” Slonina said when asked about the reports. “I think that’s the most important. Just staying focused and staying locked in and doing what I can day-to-day to make sure I’m prepared for training the next day. I think that’s the most important.”