We looked at the long odds of the Chicago Fire making the playoffs just three weeks ago and things were looking very bleak. The enthusiasm balloon for playoffs became even more deflated when a lifeless Fire squad lost to the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. Thanks to three straight victories and form that suggests the San Jose game was just a blip on the radar, the Fire find themselves in a decent spot to be like Mary Tyler Moore and make it after all.
Los Angeles, Seattle and Salt Lake have all booked their trip to the playoffs. FC Dallas and Sporting KC have a combination of strength and form at this point that suggest they are going to wrap up the top wild card spot and the top spot in the Eastern Conference respectively. Vancouver is officially eliminated from playoff contention and New England, Toronto, and San Jose aren't far behind. Chivas USA was ahead of the Fire originally but has since fallen out of the picture. That leaves 8 teams separated by 7 points fighting for the 5 playoff spots that come from 3 wild cards and 2nd and 3rd place in the Eastern Conference where applicable. It's a clearer picture than it was three weeks ago. It's a brighter picture than it was three weeks ago. An examination is after the break.
Colorado Rapids - 42 pts - 51 pts possible
10/1 vs FC Dallas
10/14 vs Real Salt Lake
10/22 at Vancouver
Colorado started off in the 'We're Going to Make Its?' category. Now, there's an extra question mark in that statement after Colorado has gone winless since August 13 (0-3-2 overall) and has just three games remaining in the schedule. FC Dallas is a very tough opponent, the Rocky Mountain rivalry will be a fierce contest as always on October 14, and the Fire can tell you that playing away at Vancouver is dangerous. The Rapids are flying back from El Salvador as I type and they have to play Santos Laguna in Mexico three days before their season finale in Vancouver. A group of primarily reserves did come away with a 3-1 win over Isidro Metapan in CONCACAF Champions League play last night. Perhaps that momentum will help the Rapids finally put a lock on a wild card spot.
Houston Dynamo - 42 pts - 51 pts possible
10/1 vs Chicago Fire
10/14 at Portland Timbers
10/23 vs Los Angeles Galaxy
Houston's September went well (2-1-1) but a Chicago Fire win this Saturday would put Chicago within 3 points of the Dynamo with a game in hand. Win this Saturday, win the game in hand, and Chicago is all tied up. Portland will be fighting for a playoff spot on October 14 but the Galaxy might field a reserve-ish type team on October 23 as they will probably have the Supporters Shield in hand at that point.
Columbus Crew - 41 pts -50 pts possible
10/2 vs D.C. United
10/15 at New England Revolution
10/22 at Chicago Fire
Columbus was another team in the 'We're Gonna Make Its' and has fallen on very hard times. September was most unkind to the Crew (0-4-1) including an embarrassing 4-2 loss to Toronto that came on the heels of a 6-2 demolishing at the hands of the Seattle Sounders. Even if the Crew were to pick up a win or two ties, Chicago would still have the chance to leapfrog them on October 22 if the Fire can get two more victories in October. The same late collapse happened to head coach Robert Warzycha's Crew last season so I almost expect the Fire to finish higher than Columbus at this point.
Philadelphia Union - 40 pts -55 pts possible
9/29 vs D.C. United
10/2 at Chivas USA
10/8 at Seattle Sounders
10/15 vs Toronto FC
10/20 at New York
Philadelphia has the 'luxury' of having a game in hand on the Fire but it also presents some congestion issues. Their only full rest is between the Seattle and Toronto game. They have back to back flights to Seattle and Los Angeles coming up. Playing a hungry New York team away does not make for a fun way to end the season. The Union's form has been poor lately winning just twice in their last 13 games dating back to the beginning of July. They need starting goalie Faryd Mondragon back from a finger fracture and even that might not be enough.
New York Red Bulls - 39 pts - 51 pts possible
10/1 at Toronto FC
10/4 vs Los Angeles Galaxy
10/15 at Sporting Kansas City
10/20 vs Philadelphia Union
NYRB's drama with Rafael Marquez has dominated the headlines for good reason. This team is considered to be an embarrassment considering the embarrassment of riches the club has put towards player salary. Their poor form of 3 wins in their last 16 games looks as bad as Philadelphia until you consider that two of their wins came in September. This Saturday's game at BMO Field should put the Red Bulls right where they want to be but drop two or three points there and it's all that much of a tougher road. The LA, Sporting KC, and a Philadelphia rivalry game with potential playoff implications on the line might be the toughest last three games for any team in MLS.
DC United - 38 pts - 56 pts possible
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
D.C. has the most games remaining of any team in the league. Of course this means they also have the largest room for error. Given their recent form (5-5-6), I wouldn't call them a lock but I would call them a favorite especially if they can take away any points from Philadelphia and Columbus. Chicago will have a prime opportunity to stop D.C. on October 15. At the end of the day a 2-2-2 finish would be consistent for D.C. and allow them to likely stumble into the playoffs with 46 points.
Portland Timbers - 37 pts - 49 pts possible
10/2 at Vancouver Whitecaps
10/14 vs Houston Dynamo
10/19 at D.C. United
10/22 vs Real Salt Lake
Portland faces a weaker team in Vancouver on paper but a Cascadia rival on the road in reality. Houston and D.C. will be fighting for their playoff lives. The Timbers might benefit by playing a RSL team looking to rest up for the playoffs at the end of the season. If Portland gives points to Houston or D.C., they are likely out for good.
Chicago Fire - 36 pts - 48 pts possible
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
This Saturday provides a very tough decision for Frank Klopas. Does he rest part of the team for the U.S. Open Cup or does he trust himself and trust his team to be able to take care of business against the Brimstone Cup foe and some old rivals also searching for the playoffs? Realistically Sean Johnson, Dan Gargan, Cory Gibbs, Jalil Anibaba, and Gonzalo Segares should have no problem playing this Wednesday, Saturday, and Tuesday. Each defender has missed a start since September 10th. Sebastian Grazzini could even play Saturday if his hamstring is back to normal. It's probably ideal to use him as an early second half sub. The question is whether or not to start Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, or Dominic Oduro. I'd keep Pappa playing and hope to keep him hot. Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo appear to be capable of giving 90 minutes after 90 minutes but Baggio Husidic should start for one of them. It might not be a bad idea to start Pardo and then sub in Pause or vice-versa. Orr Barouch and Diego Chaves wouldn't be a bad combo to start up top. After all, Chaves scored against Houston last time and what more does Barouch need to do to earn another start? Don't forget the element of Dominic Oduro returning to the Houston fans who basically booed him out of town after the season opener this year.
XI against Houston: Johnson; Gargan, Anibaba, Gibbs, Segares; Pardo, Husidic, Pappa; Paladini; Chaves, Barouch
Subs: Conway, Mikulic, Videira, Pause, Grazzini, Oduro, Nyarko
If everything goes according to plan, sub in Pause, Grazzini, and Oduro. First thing is first, set this team up for the U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday. That is the most important and most direct trophy at hand.
As for the playoffs, it cannot be emphasized enough that there are 8 teams fighting for 5 spots here. Each remaining team besides Colorado plays at least two of the other remaining teams. That puts an automatic cap on the total points each team can take. If DC United loses to Philadelphia, gaining on Philadelphia becomes easier. It is the reverse if Philadelphia loses. If anyone ties, even better. I believe the Fire could win out the rest of the year. This odds site currently gives the Fire a 65% chance of making the playoffs if they go 2-0-2. This is a talented group we have on the field. Whoever came up with the 'We Believe in You' banner earlier this year hit the nail on the head. Let's do this. Let's win the U.S. Open Cup first.