“We’re about to close out Q1, and there’s some pressure to end it with some results to stay on pace to forecast this year.” No, this isn’t your buddy at his software sales job dialing for dollars in a bullpen— it’s the Chicago Fire’s trajectory toward playing meaningful games in the month of October.
Last year through nine games, or just over 25% of the MLS season, four out of six teams in playoff positions wound up locking up a spot in last year’s competition to win the MLS Cup. The year before, in 2017, same story through nine games. In 2016? five out of six.
What I’m trying to say here with my complex data modeling and rich statistical analysis above is that these next two games are pretty freakin’ important.
The Fire currently sit in 7th place, occupying the last playoff spot in the new format with seven matches played. I understand that this isn’t exactly the most sound method in determining whether or not a team will make the playoffs due to the primary transfer window in the summer, the new playoff format, and injuries among the many different variables, but through nine games you start to become the old adage of “you are what your record says you are.” Staying above the line through nine games is probably a good indication that you are going to be in the mix down the stretch in September.
Couple that stat with looking at the upcoming fixtures this week, these games become even more important given the fact that they are both against teams who will compete with the Men In Red for one of the final playoff spots. Both Montreal and NYFC have both gotten off to middling starts and trying to find their footing, not unlike the Fire, sitting in 6th and 9th places respectively in the standings.
The Fire have an early opportunity here to bank some points they will need off these two clubs as the summer winds down. Results here on the road would put the Fire in the driver’s come the reverse fixtures at home, and take all the pressure off of them. I wrote before the season started that I felt the Fire needed 6 points out of the early Toronto, NYCFC, and Montreal matches to set themselves up for a run at the playoffs; that opportunity is still in play.
With getting a good road point against Toronto earlier in the month, I would even say nicking just three points out of the next two games would do the job in what looks like a pretty weak Eastern Conference. That would more than likely keep them above the red line by the end of the week and give this team some momentum before heading into the teeth of their schedule in the summer.
These are games where a team gets its identity, the coach and front office earn their money (or keep their jobs), and fans start to hope. This team is chalk full of potential offensively, they’ve settled on their roles defensively, and they’re coming off the back of a morale-boosting win at home. They should stay above the line. This is a roster that should get into the playoffs. Two road games in five days is always a challenge, but we’ll learn this week if this Fire team are contenders or just pretenders.