The Chicago Fire are back in the playoffs.
No matter how many times I write that it still feels good.
With their 4-1 win in San Jose last night, the Men In Red broke a five-year postseason drought and clinched at least a knockout round tie. The results of their last three games of the regular season will determine seeding— and a potential first round bye, if they can catch up to NYCFC— but the Fire will almost certainly have at least one playoff game at home.
If the season ended today, the Fire would finish in fourth place and would contest a knockout game at home against the Columbus Crew— which would be positively delicious. A #3 seed is well within the realm of possibility, with Atlanta United only one point ahead of Chicago, while a coveted #2 seed— and a pass to the Eastern Conference Semifinals— is still within striking distance.
For some of us, this must seem strange and confusing. A child born on the day the Fire last contested an MLS playoff game would be in kindergarten right now. There are young Fire fans for whom wooden spoons are all they’ve ever known. How are they, how are we, to navigate this new and uncertain world of ours?
While the brackets aren’t finalized yet, we’re at a point where we can make postseason plans without worrying about jinxing the team. And since it’s been a very, very long time since any of us had soccer to look forward to this late in the year, we thought we’d give you some quick info to mark your calendars with.
What are playoffs?
When a team in MLS does really well over the course of the season, they have an opportunity to play a sort of miniature tournament with other teams who did really well this year. Eventually the two best teams in the league will face each other in a big championship game. Whoever wins will be named champions and they’ll get a big shiny trophy.
Why are the Fire playing in the playoffs?
Because the Fire are good at soccer.
Are you sure?
That sounds fake but ok.
When can I buy tickets?
Playoff tickets go on sale to the general public on October 10th.
I’m a STH, do I get dibs?
It wouldn’t be Chicago without dibs.
Yes, if you’re a Season Ticket Holder you’ll get first crack. Current STHs, as well as new customers who purchase 2018 Season Tickets before October 2nd, will be able to buy playoff tickets in an exclusive presale window. You’ll sign up for something called a “Playoff Strip,” and as the Fire advance in the playoffs and more home fixtures are confirmed, you’ll be charged for tickets in your preferred seats.
The “strip” only covers Eastern Conference playoff fixtures. It does not include a potential MLS Cup Final hosted at Toyota Park. (Man, that feels kinda weird to type.) There’s no information from the club on how sales to an MLS Cup Final would work; it seems to be a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” sort of thing.
The club website has a more thorough explainer here.
What’s the schedule for the playoffs?
So first up is the Eastern Conference Knockout Round. This will be held on October 25th and 26th and, as I mentioned earlier, the Fire would host this one-off game at Toyota Park as things currently stand. Our opponents would be either the 5th or 6th seed; again, if the season ended today, that would be Columbus.
If the Fire manage to catch up to NYCFC and finish the season in second place, we’ll bypass this round altogether. Otherwise, it’ll be just like the last time we were in the playoffs— a Win Or Die clash at home. Hopefully things will go better for us this time around.
Assuming we have to play the knockout round match and survive it, we move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. That’s a two-legged tie, with the first leg happening on either October 30th or 31st and the second leg on November 5th. Seeding will determine which leg would be at Toyota Park.
If we survive that, it’s on to the Eastern Conference Championships, also a two-legged tie. The first leg will be on November 21st (yes, that means two weeks off) and the second on either November 28th or 29th.
And if we somehow plough our way through all that and become the last team standing in the East? It’s on to the MLS Cup Final on December 9th. No pressure or anything.
When will we know for sure what our seeding is?
It’s hard to say. We might not know definitively until after the season is over. Our last regular season game is October 22nd, on the road against Houston. We’re all going to have to play things by ear.
Will there be any special stadium rules for the playoffs? Allowable bag size? Crab rangoon? Things of that nature?
AFAIK, the club’s standard matchday policies will all remain in effect. If the FO announce any changes we’ll pass them along to you.
Should we get to Toyota Park early?
Almost certainly. The Conference Knockout Round game will be a midweek fixture, which means if you’re driving to the stadium you’ll be fighting evening rush hour traffic in addition to anticipated large crowds and construction delays. You should definitely assume the worst when it comes to travel time and plan accordingly.
Will they serve ice cream nachos in November?
God, I hope so.