NEW YORK – The Chicago Fire's recent struggles cost them a chance at a top seed in the MLS Cup playoffs, and set up a one-game elimination contest with one of last year's finalists.
The Fire will try to shake out of their funk as they host the rested Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference wild-card game Wednesday night.
Chicago (17-11-6) concluded the regular season with a 1-3-1 stretch after winning seven of the previous eight to move into serious contention for first place in the East.
The Fire continued to pay the price for their late-season swoon Saturday, tying D.C. 1-1 when a win would have moved them into second. Instead, they dropped into fourth and the wild-card contest.
"The goal from the beginning was to be in the playoffs and we are. Did we want to finish second? Yes, we did," coach Frank Klopas said. "I want a week to prepare for sure, it would be a lot better than a quick turnaround like this.
"The good thing is that we are at home and don't have to travel."
Chicago is 11-3-3 at home this year, beating Houston 3-1 there Sept. 2.
While the Dynamo (14-9-11) have been part of five of the last six postseasons, the Fire are ending a two-year playoff absence and have only four players that have represented the club in the postseason.
"The main things we focus on and what I try to talk to the young guys about is everything is magnified," captain Logan Pause told the team's official website. "The details are that much more important. Every play, every tackle, every shot - things just tighten up. In this situation especially, it's one game where you're moving on or you're done."
Chicago will look to leading scorer Chris Rolfe (eight goals) for production, and it went 5-0-1 when he found the back of the net. But Rolfe has failed to score in five straight games, and didn't even muster a shot against United.
Rolfe has two goals in eight career meetings with Houston, and none in two matchups this year.
The Dynamo, who lost last year's MLS Cup final to Los Angeles, already knew their playoff fate before falling 2-0 to Colorado on Saturday. That allowed coach Dominic Kinnear to rest a number of starters.
"We were a little disappointed in how we performed, but we've got a big game on Wednesday, so that's our focus right now," Kinnear told the team's official website. "We're just going to need to stay positive. We had a good season so I'm just looking forward to Wednesday."
Forward Will Bruin and midfielder Brad Davis should be back against Chicago. Bruin led Houston with 12 goals, and Davis was second with eight while setting up 12 others.
They've both struggled against the Fire, though. Davis has three assists in 16 meetings, while Bruin has managed one goal in four matchups with Houston going 0-1-3.
The winner of this game will host East champion Kansas City on Sunday in the opener of the two-legged conference semifinal series.