Chicago Fire's Playoff Hopes: It's a smoldering but a smoldering started the Great Chicago Fire

Clearly this kid is staring at the playoff picture and thinking 'eh, it could happen, right dad?'

If the Chicago Fire's playoff hopes were an actual fire, they would be down to a couple of glowing embers after a night's sleep.  Things don't look good but the light isn't out just yet.  Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo have added a flicker of hope here and there.  As the team hits the last stretch of games in the 2011 season, we will find out if we are just dealing with some fast lighting newspaper or have some real burning going on.  

After the break we take a look at the entire campground of the playoff picture as Chicago can revive the flame all they want and still miss the playoffs.  Other teams have been burning brighter all summer long.

The 'Shoo-Ins'

Club PPM PTS GP Pace
LA Galaxy 1.93 52 27 66
Seattle Sounders     1.78 48 27 60
FC Dallas 1.70 46 27 58
Real Salt Lake 1.63 39 24 55

These four teams represent the cream of the MLS crop.  There is no way these teams miss out of playoff soccer.

The 'We're Gonna Make Its?'

Club PPM PTS GP Pace
Columbus Crew 1.54 40 26 52
Colorado Rapids 1.46 41 28 50
Sporting KC 1.37 37 27 47
Philadelphia Union 1.36 34 25 48

Columbus, Colorado, and Sporting Kansas City would have to fall mighty far to miss the playoffs.  Each team has been playing consistent enough to almost guarantee a playoff berth.  It might get dicey but I'd be shocked if they somehow managed to miss out.  Philadelphia has lost some swagger after going 0-3-3 since July 29.  They have one less point than Houston and their starting goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is out for at least a couple of weeks after undergoing surgery on his finger.  You could put them in the 'wait and see pile' but they also have 4 points on DC, two games in hand on Houston, and a game in hand and two points on the New York Red Bulls.  Their game tonight against the New England Revolution could put them among the dogs but for now I'm keeping them in a secure place. 

The 'Hey, Anything's Possibles'

Club PPM PTS GP Pace
Houston Dynamo 1.30 35 27 44
DC United 1.29 31 24 44
New York Red Bulls 1.23 32 26 42
Portland Timbers 1.23 32 26 42
Chivas USA 1.15 31 27 39
Chicago Fire 1.04 27 26 35

These are the teams we will delve much deeper into in just a second.

The '2012 Club'

Club PPM PTS GP Pace
San Jose Earthquakes 1.00 26 26 34
New England Revolution 0.88 23 26 30
Toronto FC 0.86 24 28 29
Vancouver Whitecaps 0.81 21 26 27

This fearful foursome don't have the points and/or don't have the form needed to make a playoff run.  Don't laugh though.  The Fire could be joining this group very soon.  Now, back to the 'Hey Anything's Possibles'.

 

Houston Dynamo - 35 pts - 56 pts possible 

Tier 1 games - 2 

Tier 2 games - 2

Tier 3 games - 2

Tier 4 games - 1

9/10 at Sporting Kansas City

9/14 at Columbus Crew

9/17 vs San Jose Earthquakes

9/24 vs FC Dallas

10/1 vs Chicago Fire

10/14 at Portland Timbers

10/23 vs Los Angeles Galaxy

The Dynamo only have seven games left but they are fairly evenly distributed across team strength and between home and the road.  Chicago will have a chance to put them in a bad spot with the game on October 1.  The clarity of Houston's playoff chances will be more focused with 4 games taking place in a matter of 14 days in mid-September.  If that stretch goes poorly, the Fire could face a very desperate Dynamo team who won't be looking forward to their last game of the season being on the road at the Home Depot Center against the MLS-leading Galaxy.

 

DC United - 31 pts - 61 pts possible

Tier 1 - 2

Tier 2 - 3

Tier 3 - 4

Tier 4 - 1

9/10 at Chivas USA

9/17 at Seattle Sounders

9/21 vs Chivas USA

9/24 vs Real Salt Lake

9/29 at Philadelphia Union

10/2 at Columbus Crew

10/12 at Vancouver Whitecaps

10/15 vs Chicago Fire

10/19 vs Portland Timbers

10/22 vs Sporting Kansas City

DC United are in a nice spot because they have more points possible than every other team in the league with 10 games remaining.  Of course the down side to that is DC has 10 games spread out over 42 days.  No team has that hectic of a schedule in the entire league let alone those fighting for a final spot int he playoffs.  The strength of schedule gives them some control over their destiny if they can dispatch the four other teams competing against DC for last playoff spots but 5 of their games are against the top 8 teams in the league.  It won't be easy and veterans like Dwayne De Rosario and Josh Wolff will be called upon to lead D.C.'s youngsters who don't know what it's like to fight for a playoff spot.

 

New York Red Bulls - 32 pts - 56 pts possible  

Tier 1 - 3

Tier 2 - 2

Tier 3 - 1

Tier 4 - 2

9/10 vs Vancouver Whitecaps

9/17 at FC Dallas

9/21 vs Real Salt Lake

9/24 vs Portland

10/1 at Toronto FC

10/4 vs Los Angeles Galaxy

10/15 at Sporting Kansas City

10/20 vs Philadelphia Union

New York Red Bulls have to take advantage of their games against Vancouver and Toronto or be forced to try and poach some points from the elite of the league.  Hans Backe has used few of the allotted subs throughout the year so NYRB may not have the extra gear to make the push.  It might be so much money, so little points and a big off-season of change for the trophy-less wonders.

 

Portland Timbers - 32 pts - 56 pts possible

Tier 1 - 1

Tier 2 - 1

Tier 3 - 3

Tier 4 - 3

9/10 at Philadelphia Union

9/16 vs New England Revolution

9/21 vs San Jose Earthquakes

9/24 at New York Red Bulls

10/2 at Vancouver Whitecaps

10/14 vs Houston Dynamo

10/19 at D.C. United

10/22 vs Real Salt Lake

The Timbers would love to simply match the feat of their Nowrthwest rivals the Sounders by reaching the playoffs in their first year.  The numbers are actually in their favor with games against weak opponents like Vancouver, San Jose, and New England.  If they can pull off a sweep of those three and pluck some points from their matchups with D.C., Houston, and New York, Portland will find itself in a prime position to take one of the wild card spots.  Those six points Chicago gave them are looking very valuable right about now.

 

Chivas USA - 31 pts - 52 pts possible

Tier 1 - 2

Tier 2 - 1

Tier 3 - 3

Tier 4 - 1

9/10 vs DC United

9/17 at Chicago Fire

9/21 at DC United

9/24 vs Toronto FC

10/2 vs Philadelphia Union

10/16 at Los Angeles Galaxy

10/22 vs Seattle Sounders

Chivas USA might need to rack up the points before their last two games of the season versus the Supporters' Shield favorites Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.  It won't be easy as DC United, the Fire, and the Philadelphia Union all look to nail down a playoff spot too.  Nick LaBrocca likely needs to become a serious MVP candidate for Chivas USA to have a shot. 

 

Chicago Fire - 27 pts - 51 pts possible

Tier 1 - 2

Tier 2 - 1

Tier 3 - 3

Tier 4 - 2

9/10 at San Jose Earthquakes

9/17 vs Chivas USA

9/25 vs New England Revolution

9/28 at Real Salt Lake

10/1 at Houston Dynamo

10/4 at Seattle Sounders (U.S. Open Cup Final)

10/12 vs FC Dallas

10/15 at DC United

10/22 vs Columbus Crew

Chicago's path involves little room for error.  The picture can become much clearer if the Fire pick up 6 points in their two upcoming games against the San Jose Earthquakes and New England Revolution.  Any loss or even tie to Chivas USA, Houston, or DC United just digs the hole all the deeper.  

How uphill is the battle?  If Chicago finishes with a 6-2-0 record (say wins vs. SJ, CUSA, NE, HOU, DC, and CBUS but loses against RSL and FCD), the Fire will end the year with 45 points.  That's an impressive mark but D.C. would still outdo the Fire with a 4-3-3 or 3-1-6 record.  Houston would outlast Chicago with a 3-2-2 finish and even Portland and New York would do it with a 4-2-2 record.  There are likely too many teams with too many outcomes that have to come up the Chicago Fire's way these next two months but then again what are the statistical odds of one team hitting the post/crossbar so often?  It's cliche but you have to play the schedule one game at a time.  Let's get San Jose this weekend and then see what else has happened around Major League Soccer.

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