Chicago must improve away from home

[MLS: Playoff Push] Since the arrival of the Mike Magee, the Chicago Fire has surged back into playoff contention, but it has lots of work ahead of it, starting with its match Saturday at New England, one of seven it will play on the road out of its last 12 games.

CHICAGO FIRE:
Record: 9-9-4
First 10: 2-7-1
Last 10: 6-2-2

THE STORY SO FAR. How about mirror images? The Fire was 2-7-2 in its first 11 games, and is 7-2-2 in the last 11. Not coincidentally, 10 of those last 11 matches featured Mike Magee.

RECENT MOVES. As suspected, petulant displays during the past couple of months by forward Sherjill MacDonald were the signals he’d be leaving, and so he did this week as the team welcomed Uruguayan midfielder Arevalo Rios. On the forward line MacDonald has been replaced by Ecuadoran Juan Luis Anangono, who started his first league match and played 76 minutes in a 2-1 victory over the Impact Saturday.

STYLE POINTS. Magee’s acquisition in the Robbie Rogers deal has sparked an attack -- he’s scored eight goals for the Fire and 14 overall -- that features the slick work of Chris Rolfe and flank speed of Patrick Nyarko. An experienced midfield of Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause will be supplemented by Rios, though Dilly Duka will be hard to dislodge. The back line is good on the ball but sometimes disorganized without it.

NEEDS WORK. With a goal difference of minus-3 and just three shutouts, Chicago must be sharper defensively and quicker to recover when it loses possession. The Fire has improved its defending on set plays, though it has conceded seven such goals (including a penalty kick) after allowing five in the first eight matches. Veteran defender Bakary Soumare, a trade acquisition from Philadelphia in June, is a mentor for defender Austin Berry and keeper Sean Johnson.

FINAL ANSWER. A pumped-up attack will help, yet Chicago must also improve away from home. Starting with its match Saturday at New England, which it leads by a point in the standings, the Fire plays seven of its last 12 games on the road, where it is 2-5-3 this season.

REMAINING SCHEDULE:
August 17: @New England
August 23: Sporting KC
September 1: Houston
September 7: @Seattle
September 11: @Toronto FC
September 14: New England
September 21: @Columbus
September 28: Montreal
October 4: @D.C. United
October 12: @FC Dallas
October 19: Toronto FC
October 27: @New York
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