Fire running on fumes as Seattle rolls in

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's next two games truly will paint the picture of whether there is a glimmer of hope to the remainder of this season. But even with back-to-back wins, a typical Fire postseason is a long shot.

The Fire host Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday at Toyota Park, then head out west to take on the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. The Sounders and Quakes are the two teams tied at the bottom of the playoff picture, with 36 points apiece heading into the weekend.

"These next two are especially big," Fire forward Calen Carr said. "Well, they're all huge, man. These ones are no bigger than the last two or the next two after."

The Fire are in the midst of a six-game winless streak. With a 6-9-8 record and 26 points, Chicago needs to make up a double-digit points deficit just to reach the postseason cutoff point -- assuming everyone in front falters. With seven matches to go, the Fire likely need five or six wins among their final seven regular-season games just to have a slim chance at the postseason.

"Every year I've been here, we've been in the playoffs," Carr said. "Usually the Eastern Conference Finals. That's the bar. The goal is to take it to the next level, not to go backwards. That's troubling, and I think that's something that's on everybody's mind."

The thought of potentially missing the postseason for only the second time in Fire history is the remaining drive for a team that bleeds tradition, honor and passion as its motto.

"We have the obligation to put 100 percent on the field," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "This is the situation, for our fans and for our club. We need to show them our commitment in each other. We need to fight for these seven games with honor."

"We haven't been able to just -- throughout full stretches of games or weeks -- outplay or dominate teams in the league," Carr said. "At this point, we need to fight our way for everything, every loose ball, everything we can get. I think that energy will lead to playing better and lead to half chances, scrappy goals, whatever it takes."

This Saturday against Seattle, the Fire potentially are looking at a one-striker setup that the team used earlier this season. Nery Castillo has missed some training because of a hamstring injury. And on Wednesday, De los Cobos indicated that he could go with a heavy midfield setup with Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, Freddie Ljungberg, Bratislav Ristic and Logan Pause, with Collins John as the lone forward.

"When we started the season, we had this shape and had good moments," De los Cobos said. "I need to decide if we should play with two forwards or only one forward, depending on what's happening with Nery."

Last week, Seattle posted a convincing 4-0 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew. Blaise Nkufo netted a hat trick, and it was the team's largest margin of victory in MLS play. The Sounders are 5-0-1 when Nkufo has started.

The Fire and Sounders met up at Qwest Field on Aug. 28, and Fredy Montero tallied two goals to lead Seattle to a 2-1 victory. Chicago's defense broke down in both instances against Montero, leaving him completely unmarked for the game-winner in second-half stoppage time.

Chicago center defensive back Wilman Conde is serving his one-game suspension for picking up two yellow cards during the Fire's recent 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake. It is expected that Dasan Robinson will team up with C.J. Brown at center back.