Chicago, Sporting battle for top spot in East

Fittingly, the Chicago Fire are the hottest team in MLS.

With seven wins in its last eight matches, Chicago has climbed to second place in the Eastern Conference. One more win, Friday at Sporting Kansas City, will send the Fire to the summit.

"We know it's a big game," Fire manager Frank Klopas said. "We're excited that there's so much on the line. I think that's the exciting part."

Chicago (16-8-5) had just 32 points from its first 21 matches, but has totaled 21 points over its last eight. On 53 points from 29 matches, the Fire sit just two points behind Sporting with a game in hand.

In addition to having first place in sight, Chicago can secure a playoff berth this weekend with a win at Livestrong Sporting Park and a little help from the Philadelphia Union. Kansas City can also clinch a playoff spot with a win.

"We're playing the first-place team. They're a very good team so it should be a good challenge for us," Klopas said.

Klopas has turned Chicago into a contender through a serious of changes during the year. Forwards Sherjill MacDonald Chris Rolfe, midfielders Alex and Alvaro Fernandez and defender Arne Friedrich are the key in-season additions.

Rolfe scored both goals last week, as Chicago rallied for the eighth time this year to edge the Columbus Crew, 2-1. Now, it is in position to secure the top place with another win against Kansas City.

Chicago has won the first two meetings between the squads this season, 2-1 at Chicago and 1-0 at Kansas City. With a win, and either a Union win or tie, the Fire would wrap up a postseason berth.

"It'll be a good challenge for us in a difficult place against a very good team," Klopas said. "But again, we look very much forward to it."

Kansas City (16-7-7) has taken a back seat to Chicago lately, but the club has not lost in its last eight matches with four wins and four draws in that span.

Chicago did make up five points on Sporting over the squads' last eight games, but a win Friday would put Kansas City in control in the East.

With an 8-3-4 record at home, Kansas City needs to pick up points against the Fire with trips to Columbus and Red Bull New York next on the schedule.

Sporting extended its streak last week with a 0-0 draw at the Montreal Impact, and will try to make a major impact in the East title chase with a win against Chicago.