With a record of 5 wins, 6 losses and 14 draws through 25 games, the Chicago Fire are somehow still in the thick of the playoff hunt. They have 9 remaining games to make the playoffs and when looking at the standings, it's clear that the playoffs are very much possible.
|2||Sporting Kansas City||42||27||1.56||12||9||6||38||32||6||21||5||17||1|
|3||New England Revolution||36||26||1.38||11||12||3||37||37||0||21||10||16||-10|
|7||New York Red Bulls||31||25||1.24||7||8||10||39||38||1||26||9||13||-8|
New England, Toronto, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Houston are all in the thick of the playoff race with the Fire as seven teams compete for three spots. The beauty of MLS that a quick hot streak at the end of the season can turn a long, tough season into one that could be considered a small success by reaching the playoffs.
The Fire earned an important win versus FC Dallas in their last game and when looking at their last nine games, playoffs are still in the realm of possibility. The rest of the season is away to New England, home to Toronto, home to D.C., away to Houston, away to Philadelphia, home to Montreal, away to Kansas City, away to D.C. and home to Houston.
The first thing that pops out when looking at this is that the Fire have several key games against teams that are pushing for the playoffs. There are also a lot of teams that the Fire can get the best of over the next few games. With the signing (blind-draw snatching) of Jermaine Jones, New England is in pole position to make the playoffs. Toronto FC has one more game to play than the Fire but with the firing of Nelsen and the turmoil around Defoe, they could easily falter down the stretch. The New York Red Bulls might be the most talented team in this bunch, but have failed to impress for large parts of the season. Columbus, Philadelphia, Houston and Montreal are teams that can be seen as comparable with the Fire.
For the sake of argument, let's say the Fire lose to D.C. twice and also Kansas City. That leaves six games to pass three teams which means bettering them over their last 8-10 games (depending on what team you look at). After that, the highest expectations for points should be put on home games. This means the games versus Toronto, Montreal and Houston. Hopefully the team can pull out two wins out of those; in a worst-case scenario, they should walk away with four points. A win versus Toronto would be the ideal result because at the moment, the Fire are looking up to them in the standings and Toronto has a game at hand. The remaining away games are Houston and Philadelphia. Both have to seen as winnable games with one win being mandatory.
Another aspect that needs to be considered is if the Fire are tied on points with a team at the end of the season. The first tie-breaker is total wins which puts the Fire at an obvious disadvantage. The second is goal differential, which once again does not bode well for the Fire. This means that the Fire can not afford to draw even with a team at the end of the season.
It's been a trying season for Fire fans. There have been endless draws, forgettable performances and disappointment in roster moves (or lack thereof). The crazy thing is that in the end, the Fire can still be a playoff team. Now if they were to make the playoffs, they would likely be bounced in the first round, but anything is possible.
When looking at the run-in for the Fire, it's the situation most teams say they wish for - their fate is in their own hands. They mostly play teams that they are directing competing against in the race for the playoffs. That means a win versus Houston or Philadelphia helps the Fire and hurts the team other team at the same time. The last three games of the season are tough - Kansas City, D.C. and Houston - so if the Fire are to make the playoffs, the next five games are the most crucial of the entire season.
For better or for worse, the Fire can control their postseason fate (or lack of same) - so buckle up, because it's about to get interesting in the Eastern Conference.