It all comes down to this for the Fire. They need to defeat the Revs tonight at Toyota Park to have any hope of advancing to the Eastern Conference Final against Real Salt Lake. Will they do it? We'll find that out later, but I'll be here to walk you through the whole process with Fire Confidential's first all-day blog. Here we go...
**Pregame - 9:10 a.m.:**
I'll start off the day by [linking to a solid piece Tribune columnist John Kass wrote on the Fire/soccer yesterday](http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-kass-06-nov06,0,3798892.column). The piece has a good profile of Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas and it gets into the development and growth of the sport around the country. It's kind of rare that soccer gets any sort of front section coverage in the Tribune (even if it is on Page 2...) so definitely check it out. After all, it could be a while before the sport (not to mention the Fire...) gets that kind of space again...
**Pregame - 10:48 a.m.**
Facing a one-goal deficit on aggregate, the Fire wants to get an early goal to knot up the total score at 2 apiece. But don't expect the Fire to push too far forward and leave themselves open in the back -- as they realize the importance of not conceding an early goal and falling further behind.
"We definitely want to try to get an early goal but it's a 90 minute game and we don't want to go out and have it be wide open right from the start," said Fire captain C.J. Brown. "If we go out and get an early goal great but you don't want to push for that and then leave yourself open and get countered and give up a goal. Then you're really behind so we have to be smart and patient and wait for that opportunity to come which it will."
It's nice to see the Fire going into the match with a calm attitude. We'll have to wait and see if they keep that calm demeanor if they don't find an early goal though.
**Pregame - 11:55 a.m.**
Despite Chris Rolfe and Cuauhtemoc Blanco leaving the Fire in January and the expiring deals of Brian McBride, Marco Pappa and Gonzalo Segares creating a lot of offseason uncertainty for the club, midfielder Logan Pause isn't feeling any added pressure to win this year.
"Those are things that we can't control and at this stage of the year we don't even worry about them," said Pause. "I don't think it's a feeling of now's the time. I feel like every year we have an opportunity. You want to win now, not because you're worried about the personnel you're going to lose or the changes that will be made in the future [but because we have the chance now]."
While it's good to see that the Fire is focused at the task at hand, it would be nice to hear a sense of urgency to win now. The Fire will probably have a weaker team next season than they do now and it could be awhile before they have a team as talent laden as the 2009 version.
**Pregame - 12:51 p.m.**
If the Fire finish regulation and extra time leading the Revolution by a single goal the teams will head to penalty kicks. The Fire is 0-1 in PK's this season, falling 4-3 in the shootout to Tigres UANL in the SuperLiga final on August 5th. Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chris Rolfe, Daniel Woolard, Justin Mapp and Mike Banner took the spot kicks for the Fire in that game -- with Mapp and Banner missing their attempts.
Head Coach Denis Hamlett wouldn't reveal a possible PK lineup earlier in the week but one that I would like to see is Blanco, Rolfe, Pappa, McBride and John Thorrington. I think those five would all be cool under pressure and they all seem more than capable of putting a PK away.
**Pregame - 1:45 p.m.**
Another storyline for tonight's game is the Fire's home form. The Fire had MLS's second worst home record this year but they obviously need to step up tonight and get a win to continue their season. Whether or not they do get the win remains to be seen but the team could go a long way towards redeeming their horrible Toyota Park form with a two goal win tonight.
**Pregame - 5:35 p.m.**
Just arrived to the Toyota Park press box and am currently getting situated. I'll be heading down to the locker room to talk to Hamlett and some players prior to the game so I'll be back in roughly an hour with another update.
**Pregame - 6:17 p.m.**
Just got back upstairs to the press box, and I have a few bits of news for you. As expected Gonzalo Segares won't be available for tonight's game. Joining him on the sideline is Wilman Conde, whose pinched sciatic nerve is keeping him out of the game. John Thorrington will be available to play, no word whether or not he will start yet though.
On another note, tonight's game is the first playoff sell-out in Toyota Park's history. Nice to hear that there will be a good crowd on hand for the Fire's biggest game of the year.
**Pregame - 7:05 p.m.**
The lineups have been announced at Toyota Park. Here they are.
DEF: Prideaux, Brown, Robinson, Woolard
MID: Rolfe, Pause, Thorrington, Blanco, Pappa
Bench: Dykstra, Washington, Banner, Husidic, Mapp, Carr, Nyarko
DEF: Barnes, Osei, Heaps, Alston
MID: Nyassi, Joseph, Larentowicz, Mansally
FWD: Dube, Jankauskas
Bench: Knighton, Igwe, Tierney, Castro, Colaluca, Phelan, Thompson
It should be interesting to see where exactly Blanco lines up. I would like to see him play a little behind McBride in a supporting striker's role. I'm also intrigued to see how John Thorrington and Daniel Woolard do out there. Neither has seen the field in quite some time and they have to be ready to go from the start in this one.
**Pregame - 7:20 p.m.**
The Fire isn't looking at tonight's match as a chance to vindicate themselves at Toyota Park after a season of struggling at home.
"What happened in the past happened in the past," said Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "You want to move on no matter where you're playing."
Only 10 minutes to kick off guys. Get excited.
Buckle your seat belts. We're underway.
Daniel Woolard concedes a free kick on the right wing in a dangerous position but the Fire escape the set piece unscathed as Mansally's kick sails into the arms of Fire keeper Jon Busch.
Fire with a half chance as Cuauhtemoc Blanco picks out Chris Rolfe in front of net. Rolfe is unable to control the ball before Kevin Alston clears the danger though.
And Section 8 just set off about 1000 bright red flares -- they are certainly bringing it this game. We'll see if the Fire can match their intensity on the field.
Marco Pappa with a little shake and bake action to ditch his defender just outside the 18. He hits a nice ball across the face of goal but no Fire player is able to run onto it. Good work from Pappa.
Controversy at Toyota Park as Cuauhtemoc Blanco is down for the count after Kenny Mansally KO's Temo well after the play had moved into a different area. Somehow Mansally escapes with only a yellow card after the incident. The Revs are very lucky to be playing with 11 men right now...
New England comes oh so close to pulling ahead through forward Edgaras Jankauskas whose header of a Nyassi cross caroms off the crossbar. Scary moment for Chicago.
The Fire answers New England's chance with one of their own as Blanco hits a great cross onto the head of Brian McBride in the box. McBride was well marked by the Revolution back four though and wasn't able to generate a lot of power on his header which landed in the arms of keeper Matt Reis.
Fire applying a ton of pressure on the Revs goal right now, doing well to earn a couple corners in the last few minutes. The latest attempt saw Blanco pick out McBride (who was again well marked) only to see the Arlington Heights native's header go wide.
GOAL FIRE! JOHN THORRINGTON!
Thorrington ties up the aggregate for the Fire with a fantastic goal from 10 yards out. The play started with Brandon Prideaux picking up a loose ball and one-timing it to Marco Pappa just outside the 18. Pappa darted into the box and perfectly laid it off to a streaking Thorrington who one-timed a right footer across the face of goal and inside Matt Reis's left post. Fantastic goal for the Fire -- who are continuing to get up the field and pressure the NE defense.
Chris Rolfe almost makes it 2-0 Fire but he can't quite get high enough to reach Blanco's cross. Liking what I'm seeing from the Fire right now.
The Fire lead 1-0 at the break, which means that were all square in aggregate at 2-2. The Fire looked good throughout the opening frame, coming out of the gates playing some inspired soccer which ultimately culminated in Thorrington's goal. I thought Cuauhtemoc Blanco looked fantastic as well as Marco Pappa. I would've liked to see a little bit more from Chris Rolfe but he has 45 more minutes to make us all forget about his first frame.
And I would be completely out of line if I didn't mention John Thorrington. Apart from scoring the goal, Thorrington brought the intensity and passion that the Fire had been missing in his absence. I think I speak for everyone who follows the Fire when I say that it's good to see John back on the field.
The Revolution make a change to start the second half with Mauricio Castro replacing Kenny Mansally. Castro gave the Fire fits in Game 1 and Chicago will have some work to do in containing him.
Brian McBride goes down after challenging Matt Reis for a ball. He appears to have injured his leg on the play but -- in true McBride form -- refuses medical attention.
McBride tried to go on but simply couldn't and the Fire has to use their first sub. Patrick Nyarko comes on for the injured McBride. The Fire will now have a different feel to their attack - expect them to play more balls on the ground to utilize the speed (and counter act the loss of McBride's aerial ability) of Nyarko.
The Fire is coming closer and closer to getting that elusive second goal. Dasan Robinson nearly made it 2-0 this time, as his header was cleared off the goal line by New England's Shalrie Joseph.
Mauricio Castro appears to have gotten himself sent off for blasting the ball towards the Fire bench but it turns out that he was simply bleeding and had to go off to receive medical attention.
New England has to bring off Castro, who had only come on at halftime. Wells Thompson replaces him.
GOAL FIRE!! CUAUHTEMOC BLANCO!!!
Blanco sends the Toyota Park crowd into complete pandemonium with the second goal of the game -- giving the Fire the 3-2 lead on aggregate. Blanco was set up by the herculean effort of Patrick Nyarko who stole the ball from Emmanuel Osei on the end line and found Blanco who blasted it into the top right corner. It's getting wild in Bridgeview!!!
Hamlett puts Baggio Husidic on for Marco Pappa. Good game for Pappa and a solid sub for the Fire. Baggio should (key word there...) provide some fresh legs and defensive stability for the Fire -- and they will need it big time in the final minutes.
NE nearly pulls one back, but Pat Phelan's header skims just wide of Jon Busch's right hand post. I think I can hear DH's sigh of relief from in the press box...
5 minutes of stoppage
Fire 2 - New England 0
It's over at Toyota Park and the Fire have pulled off the improbably comeback to move onto to next week's Eastern Conference Finals. Incredible night at Toyota Park as the Fire extends their season for at least one more game. Great scene on the pitch right now as the Fire players are applauding Section 8 -- who did a fantastic job of supporting the team tonight. I'll be back later on with more thoughts on the match but until then feel free to share your unbridled joy in the comments section below. What a game!