SB Nation's Power Rankings have been updated and the remain where they were last week: Number 12. NBCSports' Steve Davis also put the Fire at No. 12. I'm not sure there's anyone out there who currently has Chicago ranked in the top half of the league. In the end these rankings don't matter because this isn't college football but it's interesting to note the general leaguewide perception of the club. In some ways it's earned but in others the Chicago Fire are the Rodney Dangerfield of MLS: we ain't getting any respect.
This chart might be a little confusing so let's break it down. On the far left side, you have all of the MLS teams listed in order of 'Points Per Match' (PPM). The number tells you how many points a team is picking up on average from each match they play. Chicago has 8 points in 5 matches so they are 1.60 PPM. In the middle you have the teams listed in order of how they were ranked in the SB Nation MLS Rankings. On the far right hand side, you have the gap between where teams are in PPM and where they were ranked in the SB Nation MLS Rankings.
Sporting KC andare ranked No. 1 and No. 2 while Montreal and are ranked No. 18 and No. 19. PPM gives all four clubs corresponding order so their gap number is 0. Some slight deviation pops up as SB Nation flip-flopped Seattle and toward the top. At the bottom, SB Nation put Portland, Columbus, and New England one spot higher than where they are in PPM.
Then there's Chicago at No. 5 in PPM but No. 12 in the rankings for a gap number of -7. Only Philadelphia with a gap of -3 and thewith a gap of +4 are anywhere near the Fire's gap. Every other team has a gap number no larger than +2 or -2. The Fire are on a great pace but nobody gives it much respect. The Galaxy are actually over-respected at the moment but hey, they did win the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup the year before. Since Philadelphia is the second most disrespected team with -3 and the Fire are the most disrespected team with a -7, you could claim the Fire are over 100% more disrespected than any other MLS squad at the moment. In fact, I will for argument's sake.
Detractors Have a Point
Just about everyone ranking MLS teams this week was left unimpressed with the fact that Chicago left Toronto with 3 points. After all, TFC is now 0-0-6. Every team that has played Toronto has departed with 3 points. Chicago went in the book as the first team to give TFC a lead in 2012. The Fire escaped with a 3-2 win that easily could have been a draw. A win was getting business done, not a step up on the ladder especially because the victory was far from dominating.
Toronto was the latest in a string of what have been 'easy' games for the Fire. The schedule listed by current PPM standing has been teams 18, 14, 11, 7, and 19. You can't blame the SB Nation voters for needing to see Chicago play some tougher opponents before investing higher votes of confidence. As Steve Davis implied, Chicago needs a signature win to move up in MLS minds.
Schedule Becomes Much More Difficult
cf97 Detractors and promoters alike will have a much clearer picture of the Fire after the month ahead:
4/28 - vs(3rd in PPM)
5/04 - at(12th in PPM)
5/09 - vs Real Salt Lake (4th in PPM)
5/12 - vs Sporting KC (1st in PPM)
5/20 - at Portland (16th in PPM)
5/23 - vs(11th in PPM)
5/26 - at Columbus (15th in PPM)
5/29 - U.S. Open Cup Match (TBD)
Three of the next four games are against three of the top four teams in the league. That's the bad news. The good news is that these games against Seattle, Salt Lake City and Kansas City are all at home. It's not inconceivable to think the Fire will pick up 3-5 points in those games since the team hasn't lost at Toyota Park since July 16th. If Chicago can at least draw or mix in a win along with a victory on the road against Chivas USA, the team would keep pace with.
DCU are ranking darlings after blowing out New York Red Bull 4-1 but I remain skeptical. Journeyman Maicon Santos has 4 goals on 6 shots on goal. The only other player close to that G/SOG conversion rate is, Seattle's forward most are discounting for 4 flukish goals. DCU is getting great production from other players though and they are the team Chicago should compare themselves to as the year progresses. Both teams have younger players working alongside MLS veterans. Both teams are coming off just missing the playoffs in 2011. Both teams seem to have a leg up on Columbus, Montreal, New England, Philadelphia and Toronto for the last two playoff spots. I think Houston and New York are on the same level as Chicago and D.C. but the Dynamo and the Red Bulls have consecutive playoff streaks going. I'll give them the edge for now.
The last four matches in May mean the Fire will play a game every 4 days on average over the next 32 days. This is a grueling pace that will test the depth of the team. I expectto start the same lineup for the 'big three' matches but look for guys like , , Federico Puppo and possibly even to get some starts as the pace wears on.
Using Recent Trends to Predict the Points
Five of the next 7 MLS opponents are from the Western Conference. That's not welcomed information. The Fire are 3-8-6 against teams from the West since the start of the 2011 season. However, Toyota Park is slowly becoming a fortress it never has been in the past and 3 of the 5 games against the West teams are at Toyota Park this month. The Fire are 7-3-9 at Toyota Park since the beginning of the 2011 season. The difference between that and the 4-7-8 road record is a more significant home/road split than anything going back to TP opening in 2006.
Chicago will look to build on their prowess over teams from the Eastern Conference too. No team from the East has defeated the Fire since May 21, 2011 whenscored that ultrgoal from midfield for the Union in a 2-1 victory. That game is the lone loss in the Fire's 8-1-11 record against East teams dating back to 2011. A win over Kansas City on May 12th will mark a full year of the Fire not losing to any team from their own conference. With this information in place, here's how I see the Fire's month in regular season play unfolding:
W - 4/28 - vs Seattle Sounders (3rd in PPM)
W - 5/04 - at Chivas USA (12th in PPM)
L - 5/09 - vs Real Salt Lake (4th in PPM)
D - 5/12 - vs Sporting KC (1st in PPM)
L - 5/20 - at Portland (16th in PPM)
D - 5/23 - vs FC Dallas (11th in PPM)
W - 5/26 - at Columbus (15th in PPM)
A 3-2-2 record would keep the Fire around their current pace with 1.57 points per game. Turn a win into a draw and it's 1.29 points per game. Turn a draw into a loss and it's 1.42 points per game. Perhaps that's optimistic but the trends suggest it's right on the mark. Chicago is averaging 1.53 points in their last 17 matches. Time to keep that up if the detractors are to be silenced.