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With an uncertain week looming, Chicago Fire grab a crucial away point against Nashville SC

Chicago and Nashville SC drew 1-1. Now the Fire wait to see how this coming week will unfold.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Nashville SC
Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman (25) works against Chicago Fire forward Robert Beric (27) during the second half at Nissan Stadium.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After Saturday night’s 1-1 draw with Nashville SC, the Chicago Fire have two games left in the regular season as they make a final push to qualify for the playoffs. Or, maybe it’s just one game left.

This being 2020, we’re not quite sure.

The Fire are scheduled to visit Minnesota United on Wednesday. It’s the makeup date from a couple weeks ago, when the Fire flew all the way to St. Paul, before turning around and coming right back, because of a positive COVID-19 test in the Minnesota team. A similar scenario seems to be unfolding again—Minnesota has already had their Sunday match vs. Sporting Kansas City canceled because two players have tested positive for the virus, leaving Wednesday’s makeup match at risk of cancelation.

The uncertainty means tonight’s road point was that much more valuable. With the draw, the Fire remain above the playoff line, in the tenth and final spot.

“I‘m happy with what I see from my team and I’m happy with the progress over the last two and a half, three months, the team, I’m very happy with that,” Fire Head Coach Raphael Wicky said after the match. “That gives me a very positive feeling for the future whatever happens. But I’m frustrated that we cannot win these games because we came here to win. I mean, a lot of those games in the last two months, two and a half months, were there for us to win, as well.”

After Nashville opened the scoring in the 28th minute off a Daniel Rios header, Chicago answered in the 42nd minute, when the deep-lying Nashville players allowed Fire defender Mauricio Pineda to gobble up space, dribbling well past midfield. Pineda slipped a pass through to right back Boris Sekulić, who buried the equalizer.

“I think in my mind I was taking the space to look for a shot,” Pineda said. “I was pretty determined to take a shot from there. It was still a little far out, so that’s why I kind of hesitated. When I looked up, I saw Boki (Boris Sekulić) pretty much wide open. Not sure if maybe everyone else was expecting me to shoot because of my body language, but yeah, Boki was in a good spot and luckily he put it away.”

As Nashville was content to sit back and defend, the Fire absolutely dominated possession in the second half. Chicago consistently had the ball in the final third of the field, but Nashville did a solid job preventing quality scoring chances, limiting the Fire to only five shots on goal all night. For Nashville, defender Walker Zimmerman and midfielder (and former Fire captain) Dax McCarty were both particularly strong defensively.

The Fire’s best chance of the second half came in the 88th minute, when Sekulić crossed the ball to Elliot Collier inside the six yard box. The Kiwi’s header narrowly missed, rattling the near post, preserving the 1-1 scoreline.

Now, with five teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the East, Fire players and staff will have a close eye on Sunday night’s matches, when all the other teams in contention are playing. Ninth place Montreal hosts Orlando City in Harrison, NJ, 11th place Inter Miami visits Toronto FC in Connecticut, 12th place D.C. United visits New England, and 13th place Atlanta United hosts 14th place FC Cincinnati.

“Of course, we are watching,” Wicky said, referring to Sunday’s slate of matches. “Of course we want to go into the playoffs. We know that certain results would help us to be in a better position. So I think that’s just human. We never wish anyone bad, but of course if a team who is competing with us doesn’t win or loses, we are not going to cry.”

After Wednesday’s uncertain match in Minnesota, the Fire are scheduled to close the regular season at home on Sunday, Nov. 8 against New York City FC at Soldier Field. It’s MLS “Decision Day”—so all teams kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT. Should the Fire make the playoffs, the team will play an Eastern Conference play-in game Nov. 20, 21 or 22, after the November FIFA international window concludes.

Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Navarro (D Bornstein 76’), D Calvo ©, D Pineda, M Medrán, M Mihailović (F Herbers 70’), M Aliseda, M Frankowski (F Collier 83’), M Giménez, F Berić

Subs not used: GK Sparrow, M Azira, M Casas Jr., D Reynolds II, D Terán, M Gutiérrez, D Omsberg

Nashville SC: GK Willis, D Johnston, D Zimmerman, D Romney, D Lovitz, M Leal (D Anibaba 89’), M Godoy, M McCarty, M Muyl (M Anunga 70’), F Jones (F Danladi 59’), F Rios (F Cadiz 59’)

Subs not used: GK Panicco, D Miller, D Washington, D Maher, M LaGrassa