By ANTHONY ZILIS
It was 90 degrees at the Chicago Fire's practice on Tuesday at Toyota Park, and maybe that contributed to a lackluster attitude.
Or maybe it was the loss to Columbus on Saturday, when the Fire gave up two goals while scoring one of its own (on an own goal) in the span of only a few minutes.
Or it could have been the fact that the Fire have underachieved all season.
Regardless of the reason, C.J. Brown said the Fire's mentality has to improve when they step on the Toyota Park Field Thursday night to play Real Salt Lake.
"I would say mentally it hasn't been as good as it should be," Brown said. "I think this week in training, the design of training was set up right. The attitude just hasn't been that great. Hopefully we come out tomorrow focused and ready to play a very good team."
The Fire head into Thursday's primetime game in 10th place in Major League Soccer, two points behind Toronto and San Jose for the final playoff spot.
Whether it's been a turnover in their roster, injuries to key players like John Thorrington, Justin Mapp and now Patrick Nyarko, or another reason, the Fire have struggled to find consistency this season.
"It's never easy to lose games, and some of the goals that we've given up, as a collective group we could have prevented them," midfielder Logan Pause said.
But Pause doesn't see the same mental issues that Brown has seen.
"Mentally we're fine. It's tough to drop points," he said. "If we would've won last weekend, we would've been in striking distance of Columbus. That's the way the league is. A couple games here and there and it can really change a whole lot of things."
The Fire didn't lose in June but have dropped points, at times, late in games, and some players feel as if Saturday's game slipped away.
Still, they're in the thick of the playoff race with over half of the season left, and head coach Carlos de los Cobos needs his team to look ahead, not behind.
"When you don't have a good result, you need to try to think in the future. These guys are making a very big effort. Sometimes we don't get the result that we want," de los Cobos said. "They have a very good attitude all of the time but they are a little sad. We need to push these guys and think about the opportunity tomorrow, to win against a very big team … and strengthen our confidence."
Still, as he stood outside Wednesday's sweltering heat, Brown was steadfast that his team hasn't had the attitude it needs to have.
"I've voiced my opinions," he said. "But at the end of the day we're all grown men. You come in and you've got to learn to focus yourself. The leaders on this team are pushing for that, but guys have to do it themselves."
- Nyarko was held out of practice with a concussion and likely won't play Thursday. Brian McBride will also be held out of the starting lineup.
- Dasan Robinson will be a game-time decision.
- Mapp should be on the gameday roster and may be a game-time decision.
- Collins John has returned to training, but is still working on his fitness level and won't start Thursday.
- Thorrington and Calen Carr have been running during practice, but no realistic timetable has been set for their return from muscle tears.
- De los Cobos said Tim Ward is "very close to returning," but won't play tomorrow.
WHITE'S TRIAL ENDS WITHOUT DEAL
Jeremiah White's two-week trial ended with the Fire, and it doesn't look like he'll be in a Fire uniform anytime soon.
Fire technical director Frank Klopas hinted that White's contract demands were unrealistic for the team.
"Everybody's got to be realistic with their demands based on our league," he said. "You got to have confidence in yourself as a player. He's definitely looking at this league but he feels like there's opportunities with him still to be somewhere in Europe … We'll see where that goes."
The Fire were also impressed with Serbian midfielder Bratislav Ristić, but it's unclear whether he'll join the club.
"Ristić is a good player, he's an experienced player," Klopas said. "I thought he did well. He's definitely a guy we're interested in."
Klopas also glossed over the Fire's designated player situation as the transfer window sets to open, commenting that the Fire may still be looking at Cuauhtémoc Blanco, and that many of the players he is looking at play in leagues that end in the fall.
"All options are open," he said. "Every decision that the organization makes, it's about, can we make our team better. Now and next year."
Klopas jokingly added that he wasn’t able to acquire Lionel Messi from Barcelona.