Chicago Fire Make the Playoffs: Now What?

John Gress - Getty Images

Chicago Fire have made the playoffs but what's next?

The Chicago Fire sit 2nd in the Eastern Conference and they sit 7 points ahead of 6th place Columbus Crew. This means that after yesterday's 1-1 draw in Columbus, the Crew cannot catch the Fire with their two remaining games. Chicago might only get the 5th and last playoff seed but for the first time since 2009, the Fire are definitely going to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

It's been a long road for Fire fans. The team was gutted through retirements, foreign departures, and attrition after the 2009 season. Hindsight suggests it was always going to take two years to make it back to the postseason. Now Chicago is only the 2nd team to qualify for the playoffs. D.C. hasn't been in the playoffs since 2008. Toronto FC hasn't been in the playoffs ever. Fire fans should be thankful that the road back to the top was relatively quick and happened at all.

Now that we are here, what can fans expect? When and where will the Fire play? Where is Chicago likely to finish?

Current Standings for Eastern Conference Eligible Playoff Teams

Team Points GP
Kansas City 59 32
Chicago 56 32
D.C 54 32
New York 53 32
Houston 50 32
Columbus 49 32

If the seedings finished this way, here's how the playoff schedule would lineup.

First Round Knockout - Wednesday, October 31 or Thursday, November 1

(No. 5) Houston Dynamo at (No. 4) New York Red Bulls

Conference Semifinals (1st leg) - Saturday, November 3 or Sunday, November 4

(No. 1) Sporting Kansas City at HOU/NYRB winner

(No. 2) Chicago Fire at (No. 3) D.C. United

Conference Semifinals (2nd leg) - Wednesday, November 7 or Thursday, November 8

HOU/NYRB winner at Sporting Kansas City

D.C. United at Chicago Fire

Conference Championship (1st leg) - Saturday, November 10 or Sunday, November 11

HOU/NYRB/SKC winner vs. DCU/CHI winner (team with fewest points hosts)

Conference Championship (2nd leg) - Saturday, November 17 or Sunday, November 18

HOU/NYRB/SKC winner vs. DCU/CHI winner (team with highest points hosts)

MLS Cup 2012 - Saturday, December 1

Western Conference Champion vs. Eastern Conference Champion (team with highest points hosts)

Are the current standings the most likely end scenario? Let's take a look.

Remaining Games with Eastern Conference Eligible Playoff Teams

Date Away Team Home Team Max Low
10/20/2012 Kansas City New York 3 2
10/20/2012 Columbus D.C. 3 2
10/20/2012 Chicago New England 3 0
10/20/2012 Philadelphia Houston 3 0
10/24/2012 Philadelphia Kansas City 3 0
10/24/2012 New York Philadelphia 3 0
10/27/2012 D.C Chicago 3 2
10/27/2012 Houston Colorado 3 0
10/28/2012 Toronto FC Columbus 3 0
Total 27 6

There are six teams left and each team has 2 games remaining. However, 3 of those games involve two of the teams still in contention. If all nine of the games feature a team in contention winning, the standings at most would get 27 more points. Below is what that would look like if that happened and the home sides won the double contending games. Chicago would host the winner of D.C. and Houston on November 7 or November 8.

Team Points
Chicago 62
Kansas City 62
New York 59
D.C. 57
Houston 56
Columbus 52

Here's what the standings would look like if everyone lost and the contending games ended as draws. Chicago would play D.C. and host the second leg of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final on November 7 or November 8.

Team Points
Kansas City 60
Chicago 57
D.C. 55
New York 54
Columbus 51
Houston 50

Just for your nightmares, here is the worst case scenario where Chicago loses both of their games and the home teams win the other contending matches.

Team Points
Kansas City 62
D.C. 60
New York 59
Houston 56
Chicago 56
Columbus 52

This disaster scenario would see the Fire travel to Houston and play in the First Round Knockout on October 31 or November 1. The last thing this team needs is an extra knockout game and an extra road trip. It's great that the team is in the playoffs but as this exercise demonstrates, it's crucial Chicago ends the season on a strong note.

Tiebreakers

The standings above are based on the most likely position of the 2012 MLS Cup tiebreakers. When two teams have the same amount of points, MLS is breaking ties according to the following order:


1. Goals For
2. Goal Differential
3. Fewest Disciplinary Points
4. Road Goals
5. Road Goal Differential
6. Home Goals
7. Home Goal Differential
8. Coin Toss (2 teams) or Drawing of Lots (3 or more)

In almost every other league in the world, the tie breaker is 'Goal Differential', not 'Goals For'. MLS has primarily used 'Goal Differential' as a tiebreak in their existence. In 2012, GF is the first tiebreaker.

Team Points GF GD
Kansas City 59 40 14
Chicago 56 45 6
D.C. 54 49 9
New York 53 54 8
Houston 50 45 7
Columbus 49 40 0

Chicago doesn't have any room to complain as they trail the rest of the pack in GD. The Fire have an advantage over KC in GF and they are on an even page with Houston at the moment. This tiebreaker will benefit Chicago if they get into 1st place. If the Fire are falling to 5th that means Houston won both of their games while Chicago lost theirs. Chicago would certainly lose ground on GD in this scenario but if their losses were high-scoring (2-1 & 3-2 for example) and Houston's wins were of the 1-0 variety, Chicago would come out on top.

That potential situation is a reason why I'm against the change to Goals For as the top tiebreaker. Chicago might gain from it this year but teams that have the best balance between goals for and goals against should be rewarded before teams that simply score a lot of goals.

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