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Originally published Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 7:37 PM

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Late goal lifts Sounders FC over Chicago

In the closing minutes Saturday night, Sounders FC solidified its hold on the final playoff spot in Major League Soccer with a 1-0 victory over the Fire at Toyota Park.

Special to The Seattle Times

Playoffs near

3-1-1

Seattle's record in past five matches

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — In the closing minutes Saturday night, Sounders FC solidified its hold on the final playoff spot in Major League Soccer with a 1-0 victory over the Fire at Toyota Park.

"With only four games left, we want to pick up as many points as possible," Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said.

With the victory, Seattle improved to 11-9-6, 39 points.

Credit Keller with the Sounders tacking on three more points.

The Sounders goalkeeper was tested hard, especially in the first half. The Fire opened with playoff intensity, putting a shot on Keller in the opening seconds. Three minutes later, Keller had to stop a breakaway. He had to stop another point-blank shot by Marco Pappa in extra time of the first half.

Freddie Ljungberg, acquired from Seattle on July 30, started at forward for the Fire and tested Keller again with a hard free kick in the opening minutes of the second half.

"I am almost used to it," Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. "That is what great goalkeepers do."

Keller downplayed his role and said, "Everybody did their job."

When it mattered, Blaise Nkufo certainly did. He swung wide on the left side, then fired a shot that appeared to deflect off Fire defender C.J. Brown, who was falling down. The feed came from Steve Zakuani.

"He always told us, 'Next chance, next chance,' and he gave me a great ball," said Nkufo, who has scored four goals in his past two games.

"I put it in his path and he did the rest," Zakuani said.

Then the Sounders offense kept the ball on the Fire side for the final two minutes and four minutes of extra time to seal the victory.

Schmid had called the Fire match the first of "three weeks of playoff games" in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the MLS.

And he credited the Sounders for their second straight road victory, despite playing four games in 13 days.

"They have done 18,000 miles," Schmid said. The win "is pretty impressive. Sometimes the guys don't know (where they are)."

Early in the match, the offense for Sounders FC looked road weary and only mustered two shots on goal in the first half. But Seattle had quality chances in the second half. Fredy Montero had a good mid-box header in the 61st minute. In the 73rd, Nkufo sprang Sanna Nyassi on a break, which Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson had to double stop.

The Fire (6-10-8, 26 points) came in fifth in the East and 10 points back for the eighth and final playoff spot.

In a match with playoff implications, the game was mellower than maybe expected.

The first yellow card came in the 28th minute to the Fire's John Thorrington for a reckless foul. But referee Jasen Anno kept a tight rein on the game with ready admonitions for hard tackles and physical play. Pappa got the second yellow in the 70th minute for a reckless tackle.

Seattle didn't get its first shot on goal until the 33rd minute when Montero was stopped at short range.

The Fire is now on a seven-game winless streak.

SOUNDERS FC 1, FIRE 0

Seattle 0 1 — 1
Chicago 0 0 — 0
First half — None. Second half — 1, Seattle, Nkufo 4 (Zakuani), 88th minute. Goalies — Seattle, Kasey Keller; Chicago, Sean Johnson. Shots — Seattle 12, Chicago 8. Shots on goal — Seattle 5, Chicago 5. Saves — Seattle 5, Chicago 4. Fouls — Seattle 8, Chicago 9. Offsides — Seattle 0, Chicago 1. Corner kicks — Seattle 7, Chicago 4. Yellow cards — Thorrington, Chicago, 27th; Pappa, Chicago, 70th. Referee — Jasen Anno. Assistant referees — Peter Balciunas. Claudio Badea. 4th official — Michael Kennedy. A — 17,477.

Lineups

Seattle — Kasey Keller, James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke, Nathan Sturgis (Alvaro Fernandez, 78th), Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi (Roger Levesque, 83rd), Steve Zakuani (Tyrone Marshall, 90th+), Osvaldo Alonso, Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo.

Chicago — Sean Johnson, C.J. Brown, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Gonzalo Segares (Deris Umanzor, 58th), Bratislav Ristic, John Thorrington, Logan Pause (Collins John, 83rd), Freddie Ljungberg, Marco Pappa, Calen Carr (Brian McBride, 64th), Patrick Nyarko.

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