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Chicago Fire: King of the East

Chicago Fire - King of the East
Chicago Fire - King of the East

If you have been following the Chicago Fire this year, you are almost certainly familiar with the fact that the Fire have not lost a home game to an Eastern Conference opponent since October 12, 2010. Teams in the East might as well put (0-1 points) down when they are looking at a game at Toyota Park. Does this crop of players respond better to Section 8 Chicago and the other Fire faithful? Has Klopas figured out the right players to bring in to fill Toyota Park's cavernous field? It's hard to give weight to one factor over another so it's best to just sit back and enjoy the slaughter of Eastern Conference opponents' dreams. It's also important to note that the Fire's domination of the East extends beyond the walls at 71st & Harlem. Here's how the Chicago Fire are the King of the East.

Eastern Conference Breakdown

CHI X W, L, G W, G, (2) D, D, L L, L, G D, L, (2) W, L, G L, W, G L, L, G L, L, L
CLB L, W, G X L, W, G D, D, (2) W, L, G L, W, L D, L, W W, W, (2) W, L, G L, L, G
DCU L, G, (2) W, L, G X L, W, W W, W (2) D, L, W L, L, L L, W, D L, D, G L, L, G
HOU D, D, W D, D, (2) W, L, L X D, L, D W, L, G D, G, (2) W, L, W L, G, G D, L, D
KC W, W, G L, W, G L, L, (2) D, W, D X W, L, G L, D, L D, G, G W, G, (2) L, L, L
MTL D, W, (2) W, L, W D, W, L L, W, G L, W, G X L, L, G W, W, L W, L, (2) L, W, G
NE L, W, G D, W, L W, W, W D, G, (2) W, D, W W, W, G X W, L, G W, D, G D, W, (2)
NY W, L, G L, L, (2) W, L, D L, W, L D, G, G L , L, W L, W, G X L, L, G D, G, (2)
PHI W, W, G L, W, G W, D, G W, G, G L, G, (2) L, W, (2) L, D, G W, W, G X W, L, D
TFC W, W, W W, W, G W, W, G D, W, D W, W, W W, L, G D, L, (2) D, G, (2) L, W, D X
Record 12-4-3 (6) 9-8-3 (5) 11-6-3 (4) 7-5-9 (4) 9-6-4 (6) 9-10-2 (4) 3-12-5 (5) 11-5-3 (6) 5-9-3 (8) 3-13-5 (4)

Key: W = Win, D = Draw, L = Loss, (2) = Opponents only had 2 games, G = Game still to be played.

Laid out in front of you is a breakdown of how each Eastern Conference team has fared against every other team in the East. If you are confused about some of the letters/numbers, please consult the key in italics. When it comes to playing teams in the East, no one plays them better than the Fire. Chicago has the most wins of any team and they have games in hand on teams like D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo. Chicago also has the fewest number of losses. If the Eastern Conference was its own league, the table would look like this:

Team Points Team PPG
CHI 39 CHI 2.05
NY 36 NY 1.89
DCU 36 DCU 1.71
KC 31 KC 1.63
CLB 30 CLB 1.50
HOU 30 HOU 1.43
MTL 29 MTL 1.38
PHI 18 PHI 1.06
NE 14 NE 0.70
TFC 14 TFC 0.67

Chicago is the only team that is living up to the points average of 'win at home, draw on the road'. Other random observations include the fact that New England has gone 3-12-5 vs. the East this year but their 3 wins have been vs. Chicago, New York, and Columbus. Toronto, New England, and Philadelphia really have been cannon fodder for the other teams in the conference. Houston has four games against Eastern teams left. Two of them are against Philadelphia, one is against New England, and the other is against Montreal. The Dynamo should be able to create some distance between themselves and the Impact. I think the Impact will end the season in no-man's land of mediocrity between the top six teams and the bottom three teams in the conference.

Elite Teams Head to Head

The gap between the top and the bottom of the conference brings up a crucial competent to these numbers. It's important for teams to show their dominance by defeating (not drawing) against the likes of Philadelphia, New England, and Toronto but when it comes the playoffs, those teams won't be around. To win the MLS Cup, you must be able to defeat the best teams head on. The further breakdown of the East elite vs. the East elite continues to demonstrate that Chicago is a top contender.

Team Record Points Games Played Total Games PPG
NY 6-3-2 20 11 14 1.82
CHI 5-3-2 17 10 14 1.70
KC 3-4-4 16 11 15 1.45
HOU 4-4-6 18 14 14 1.29
DCU 4-6-1 13 11 13 1.18
CLB 3-5-2 11 10 13 1.10

Only New York and Chicago have more wins than loses against the other teams in the above chart. All of the teams have defeated at least three different teams on this list, except for Kansas City. Two of KC's 3 wins have come against DC. Their lone other victory came against Columbus back in July. Throw out the fact that KC is in first place in the current standings, I would rather see Chicago face KC in the playoffs than Columbus.

Kansas City's Downfall - Columbus' Rise

KC may have been on top of the MLS world after starting 7-0-0 but they have done very little to add to their position. The squad made few tweaks and/or additions to the lineup that started their first game. Meanwhile teams like the Crew have retooled with major impact players in Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta. The Crew's new dynamic duo has played in a combined 17 games and have 17 goals/assists to their names. Chicago's mid-season acquisitions of Alvaro Fernandez, Alex, and Sherjill MacDonald have done well but their combined 6 goals and 3 assists in 27 games (16 starts) pale in comparison.

There is the old adage 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' but KC's manager Peter Vermes failed to heed the saying 'don't rest on your laurels'. Kansas City is the only major playoff threat in the East that is averaging less than 1.66 points per game in their last 21 games. Columbus started out with the worst position of any of these teams (7 points in 7 games), but they realized they didn't have a MLS Cup contending squad. It's almost alarming how quickly the Crew's front office has been able to turn this around.

Team Points PPG
CHI 39 1.86
NY 39 1.86
HOU 38* 1.86
CLB 35 1.67
DC 35 1.67
KC 30 1.43

*Every team has played 21 games in this span except for Houston who has played 22.

D.C. Wounded - Houston Healthy

We found out last week that D.C.'s offensive engine Dwayne De Rosario was ruled out for essentially the rest of the year. This is the risk you take when you build a team around a 34 year-old play-maker. The departure of the Fire's 31 year-old Sebastian Grazzini looks to have made Chicago a stronger, more diverse squad. Seeing this kind of injury take place to a similar over 30 year-old player provides an additional layer of 'well, that worked out in the end'. D.C. is also struggling from a drop in production from Hamdi Salihi and Maicon Santos. They combine for 12 goals and 2 assists on the season but neither of them has got on the score sheet since late June.

Houston has overcome a team-wide bout with the flu. They have an easy MLS schedule to finish the season. Mid-season additions of Ricardo Clark and Boniek Garcia are contributing to an already rejuvenated Houston offense. The Dynamo only need to be concerned about extra travel related to CONCACAF Champions League play and the fact that they tend to draw too often. Houston is the only team in the league with double-digit draws at the moment. The 'top of the East only' standings show Houston with a healthy lead in the tie department. Will the Dynamo be able to get over the top in November? With Dominic Kinnear leading them on the sidelines, I'd rather not face them head-to-head and have to find out.

Top of the East: Chicago vs. New York

Almost all of the factors here point to Chicago being the best in the East. However, in every category, New York is right on Chicago's tail or even ahead. The Red Bulls have more victories against top teams in the East than Chicago does. Head-to-head Chicago won the first game 3-1 at Toyota Park. New York won the second contest 1-0 at Red Bull Arena. Right now everything points to the October 6 rubber match of the series at Red Bull Arena being the game that determines which team will finish first in the 2012 Eastern Conference standings.