The Fire's flirtation with competence has the technical staff talking playoffs, quietly, so quietly - but the truth is, there's a lot of bodies to climb over before Chicago can get to even the middle of the pile:
|2||Sporting Kansas City||42||28||1.5||12||10||6||39||34||5||21||5||18||0|
|3||New England Revolution||36||26||1.38||11||12||3||37||37||0||21||10||16||-10|
|5||New York Red Bulls||34||26||1.31||8||8||10||41||39||2||28||10||13||-8|
... so if the Men in Red are to seriously mount a challenge upon the established order of the East, time grows perilously thin. The Fire will need to perform more than five points better than New York over the final nine games, or more than six better than Philadelphia. Despite the fact that today's game is on the road, despite the fact that it's on FieldTurf, despite the fact that the opponent is the hottest team in the East, Chicago still needs at least a point if its leaders are to even whisper 'playoffs' with a straight face.
Plenty of photons have been spilled about how such a thing might happen. Stephen Piggot's always-solid analysis of tactical needs is here; my witless noodlings on a similar topic appeared here earlier today. And here's Matt Watson having a chin-wag about the game with the redoubtable Jeff Crandall:
The injury news is ominous - Robert Earnshaw, scorer of two vital goals the last two games, is somewhat doubtful with a 'niggle' in his calf, while Mike Magee definitely will not feature with a troublingly open-ended hip problem.
The news isn't all bad, though. Winger Patrick Nyarko will be available after a long layoff, as will Benji Joya. Nyarko, in particular, could be important against a New England defense that likes to send left-back Mike Videira forward to take advantage of his very good service into the box - Grant Ward has played hard, but is less of a pin-back-the-fullback kind of winger. Nyarko cannot be game-fit, however, so expect to see him off the bench.
What shape would you like to see the Fire in today? How can CF97 continue to exercise its demons vis-a-vis playing on turf? Should the Men in Red even be thinking playoffs - should we see the kids playing instead? And when will the club store start selling that totally badass white-with-a-red-stripe windbreaker Yallop's been rocking on and off all season? This is the place to opine, banter, weep, exult or kvetch. Lineups in the comments about an hour out.