Last week, as Ruben pointed out, was quite the Jekyll and Hyde week for the Fire: smashing the current champions midweek and sleepwalking their way through a hot night in Kansas to another away loss. I would argue the dichotomy that last week presented was the perfect summation of how this Fire team’s season has gone: outrageous potential, but leaving fans wanting more.
Extraordinarily, though, the Fire only sit a point below the playoff line after a frustrating mixed bag of results. More good news? They have the bottom dwellers of the Eastern Conference in the next two consecutive fixtures. Cincinnati and Columbus are a combined 3-24-2 in their last 29 games; that is atrocious by any standard, and you would think Fire fans would be licking their chops to find their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture by the middle of next week.
But I hope, like I will be trying to do, supporters hedge their emotional bets over the next 180 minutes of soccer if the Fire walk away with good results. I understand it’s presumptuous to expect the Fire to roll these next two clubs based on how this season has gone, but this team should get six points from these two games. They might even blow one of these teams out and enter the playoff fight by next Thursday morning. Let’s say this group maxes out with 6 points in decisive fashion, do we really believe this team is in playoff contention?
We’ve seen this before this season. New England, Colorado, and last week with Atlanta all showed flashes in the pan of potential this team has, but they were followed up a stretch of disappointing results. Those results, the eye test week-to-week, and even the numbers say the chances to make the playoffs are slimmer than the standings say. American Soccer Analysis’ model gives the Fire a 24.5% chance to even make the playoffs given their current position. For reference, Toronto FC, just one point above the Chicago Fire, have a 51.1% chance to secure a playoff spot. The Fire are also well below the playoff trendline and closer to their dreadful 2015 pace than some of us might realize.
I’m not saying I don’t want this group to get six points. I am not saying that six points doesn’t set the Fire up to make a playoff push in the back half of the season. Honestly, I am writing this for myself, writing this to turn to next week to moderate my expectations if the Fire find themselves on the other side of the red line.
Still doing this because it took some effort to set up the spreadsheet. Good news for people who love bad news: Fire ain't makin' no playoffs. #cf97— Actual Name: Brian B (@OwenGoal) July 8, 2019
They're well below trend to get into MLS's expanded playoff and 1 Cincy loss from equalling their '15 wooden spoon pace now. pic.twitter.com/W3IqSZWArV
As much of a disappointment as this first half of the season has been, I like this team, and want to believe in it. Two wins in the next two games and I’ll be peeking at the standings, doing the permutations to determine the path to meaningful October soccer and telling myself, “over 90 minutes, why can’t this team beat anyone in the league?” Even beating up on two of the worst teams in the league will ignite the optimistic fan in me.
Let’s go for six points. Let’s hope they play well. But let’s also not get too carried away if they don’t.