The Chicago Fire wrap-up their 2013 campaign on Sunday with a game at the New York Red Bulls, who are in prime position to win the first major trophy in their 18 year history. A win puts Chicago in playoff territory, and even a loss could see them backing into the postseason with a little help from the Fates.
Controlling your own destiny is nice, but the Fire are also in position for destiny to give them an assist. One loss or draw by either Houston or New England and Chicago can punch their ticket for the playoffs. The final whistle in New York could find Chicago ranked as high as third in the conference—allowing them to skip the knockout round of the playoffs—or sitting on the sidelines with a sixth place finish and dazed memories of an extraordinary second-half run that came up just short.
Here are the potential playoff scenarios for the Men in Red on the final day, from the best possible scenario to the worst:
Chicago clinches the #3 seed IF:
--They win in New York AND Montreal lose in Toronto.
Toronto played Chicago tough on Saturday, and only lost on a penalty kick that was awarded on a very questionable call. They’re playing for pride here, and nothing makes the good people of Toronto more proud than knowing that they ruined everything in the world for their Francophone neighbors. A loss by L’Impact only helps the Fire if they can secure at least one point against New York, as Montreal still owns the tiebreaker.
Chicago clinches a playoff spot IF:
--They win in New York.
--They draw in New York AND Montreal lose in Toronto.
--Houston lose or draw in Washington.
--New England lose or draw in Columbus.
Any of these four scenarios gives the Fire a spot, and they should have a pretty good idea of what’s required of them before they even take the field on Sunday. Montreal and Toronto square off on Saturday, and Houston will have wrapped their game in D.C. before kick-off at Red Bull Arena. Houston was sitting pretty two days ago, but their home thrashing at the hands of New York has them on the outside looking in this week. Much like last week, Columbus and New England will be into their second half by the time Chicago’s game gets rolling, and the Houston result will have a sizable impact on the amount of scoreboard watching done by Frank Klopas and the Chicago faithful.
Chicago misses the playoffs IF:
--They draw in New York AND Houston win in Washington AND New England win in Columbus AND Montreal win or draw in Toronto.
--They lose in New York AND Houston win in Washington AND New England win in Columbus.
In short, several things need to happen in order for the Fire to miss the playoffs. It’s a feeble comfort, however, since New England, Houston and Montreal are facing the three teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. It’s possible that Chicago come into their game knowing that anything short of a win will leave them out in the cold.
No pressure or anything.
New York will also have a clear idea of what they need to do coming into the match, as the three other teams in competition for the Supporters’ Shield (Real Salt Lake, Portland and Kansas City) all play earlier in the week. There is even the (very) remote possibility that New York will already have the Supporters’ Shield locked up before kick-off—a long shot scenario that involves both Real Salt Lake and Portland failing to pull wins against Chivas USA and Kansas City failing to pull a win against Philadelphia. Short of that, however, New York is going to need points, though how many points will be determined by Kansas City. If KC wins in Philadelphia, New York need a win to take the Shield. If KC lose or draw, then New York will only need a draw to take it, no matter what happens out west.
Not that any of that concerns Chicago. For the Fire, there are three teams that can keep them out of the playoffs, and it would take all three to make that happen (Philadelphia can knock out New England or Houston, but not Chicago). It’s not a bad position to be in, but the possibility that Chicago will need a road win against the league’s best team to squeeze into the playoffs remains very real. And it might be the most appropriate scenario to wrap up Chicago’s roller coaster campaign.