Bridgeview, IL – Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas said Tuesday his club had achieved only their first goal to reach the MLS Cup playoffs, and the "team is hungrier to achieve a lot more."
Chicago qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and welcomes the 2011 MLS Cup runner-up Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park on Wednesday night in an Eastern Conference knockout game Klopas described as "do or die."
The Fire (17-11-6) narrowly missed securing a bye in the playoffs, but instead will have to focus on the Dynamo (14-9-11), who will try to duplicate a run of road success in the postseason last year.
"Any time on the road in the playoffs is tough," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "Experience can help you, but you can only rely on experience for so long.
"Last year's team was in the playoffs and made a run to the Cup, so hopefully we can make that comparison (in a few weeks)."
Chicago will be a tough first step for Houston.
The Fire tied a club record for points in a season with 57, but just missed a bye into the Eastern Conference semifinals because of a 1-1 draw against D.C. United on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
Fourth place was still enough to host the one-match playoff, and with a 11-3-3 record at home this season, just one more home victory will have Chicago right in the mix in a two-game conference semifinal series.
In addition to the impressive home form, Chicago was unbeaten in three matches against Houston this season, securing a win and two draws. The match in April, a 1-1 draw, was stopped midway through the second half. The second was 0-0.
And in the third, Chicago posted a 3-1 win in early September at home.
"It's a team that we've played throughout the season. That also gives you some confidence, knowing the opponent," Klopas said. "At this point of the season, the guys are ready, they're excited and we're looking forward to the match."
Kinnear remembers the most recent meeting, the loss, well. Chicago scored less than one minute into the match, and Houston cannot afford a similar start this time around.
"One thing I learned is don't get scored on in the first minute of the game," Kinnear said. "We know its going to be a difficult game. We played Chicago three times and all the games have been very competitive."
While Chicago has changed during the year, most notably through the additions of Chris Rolfe, Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald, Houston has also gone through transitions with the additions of Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark.
Garcia has four goals and four assists in just 17 matches, and Clark returned from a European stint to hold down midfield after the departure of center back Geoff Cameron to Stoke city of the English Premier League.
Brad Davis, eight goals and a team-high 12 assists, and Garcia will need to be on for Houston, as it relies on its wide players to guide the offense.
The Dynamo will need Will Bruin, who led the team with 12 goals in the regular season, to produce in the playoffs, or for someone to step up in his spot, or they could struggle to score.
Chicago has a balanced offense led by Rolfe - eight goals and three assists in 22 games - and a defense anchored by German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich.
Houston also enters the playoffs off a 2-0 defeat against the Colorado Rapids, but last year's experience, including victories at the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City, will keep the club's confidence high.
"Tough team to break down. We know it's one game, and for us to advance, we need to win this game," Kinnear said. "We do have respect for our foes, but we do not fear them."
The winner advances to face the top seed in the East, K.C., in the conference semifinals. The winner will host the first match on Nov. 4, and visit Sporting for the second leg.