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22 October 10:09 am

The MLS Cup playoffs are nearly upon us and even with Saturday’s disappointing result, you can feel the excitement for the club’s return to the postseason after a two-year absence. With their playoff qualification back on October 7, the team locked in its 12th postseason berth in 15 seasons, by far the best playoff qualification rate of all professional teams in Chicago in both their first 15 seasons of play and last 15 seasons.

With a strong postseason presence through 15 seasons, I wanted to take a year-by-year look back at the club’s postseason performances leading up to the beginning of the MLS Cup playoffs next Wednesday.

We'll begin where it all started: The magical run in 1998...

The Fire played their first two seasons in the Western Conference and aptly enough, the first saw them finish where the team could potentially finish this season (second place) behind only the league’s regular season champions LA.

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Colorado Rapids Western Conference Semifinals (best of three)

GAME 1: Holding home-field advantage over Colorado, the Fire welcomed the Rapids to Soldier Field on October 1, 1998.

After forcing Colorado ‘keeper Marcus Hahnemann into five first half saves, the Fire would take advantage of Rapids defender Steve Trittschuh for the first time in the series when he pulled down Peter Nowak in the box, leaving refree Kevin Terry to whistle a penalty.

WATCH: The 1998 Playoff Run

 

As he’d done four out of four times during the regular season, defender Lubos Kubik blasted his effort to the top left corner to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute. Facing a loss in Game 1, the Rapids would equalize in the 79th when Adrian Paz’s cross from the right was deflected by C.J Brown and found Waldir with a diving header at the back post, forcing the game to a shootout.

In the decider, Tom Soehn and Frank Klopas converted to cancel out goals from Paul Bravo and Chris Henderson in the early rounds. Fire ‘keeper Zach Thornton then took over, making three consecutive stops on David Vaudreuil, Wolde Harris and Peter Vermes before Jesse Marsch chipped Hahneman to clinch the win and give the Fire a 1-0 series lead.

GAME 2: The Fire traveled to Mile High Stadium for Game 2 on October 5, knowing that a victory would push the team to the Western Conference final.

Once again, Peter Nowak would take advantage of Trittschuh, going on a stunning run through the Rapids midfield before being tripped up by the former U.S. international at the top of the box. For the second time in five days, Lubos Kubik would step up and convert his spot kick, this time placing a low effort to the left of Hahnemann in the 42nd minute.

Thornton would stand tall, making two second half saves to give the Fire a 1-0 victory and push the team to the conference finals.

#1 LA Galaxy vs. #2 Chicago Fire Western Conference Finals (best of three)

GAME 1:  Five days after advancing, the Fire traveled to The Rose Bowl to take on top-seeded LA on October 10. The Galaxy would outshoot the Fire 11-5, with the Fire not registering a shot on goal until the 86th minute.

Luckily enough, the two that came with just four minutes to play would be all the visitors would need as Lubos Kubik’s free kick was stopped with a diving save from Kevin Hartman before Jesse Marsch was there on the doorstep to tally his second winner of the postseason, sending the Fire back to Chicago with a  1-0 lead.

GAME 2: The Fire welcomed the Galaxy to Soldier Field on October 16 and would once again take the first lead.

In the 31st minute, C.J. Brown sent a long ball over the top and into the stride of Ante Razov. The U.S. international sped into the box before seeing his close-range effort stopped by Hartman but Captain Clutch Peter Nowak saw the rebound fall to him near the penalty spot and he fired the effort past the Galaxy ‘keeper to give the Fire the lead.

It lasted just six minutes as Cobi Jones cross from the right found a wide open Danny Pena in the box. With acres of space, Pena was able to take two touches before hitting a low effort to the inside post, catching Thornton flat-footed and equalizing just before the half.

LA outshot the Fire on goal 2-0 in the second half but couldn’t convert, forcing the Men in Red to another shootout. Through the first three rounds, the Galaxy held a 1-0 edge as Welton tallied while Nowak, Razov and Soehn all failed to convert for the Fire.

As he did against Colorado in Game 1, Zach Thornton would come up huge at the end, making three consecutive stops on Martin Machon, Mauricio Cienfuegos and Greg Vanney while Marsch converted and Podbrozny hit the back of the net to push the team into MLS Cup in front of 32,744 at Soldier Field.

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United – MLS Cup ’98 – The Rose Bowl; Pasadena, CA

After wrapping up their conference final series in two matches, the Fire would return to The Rose Bowl on nine days rest while opponents D.C. United came into the match having played just four days prior against the Columbus Crew in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.

Facing the only champions the young league had ever known, the Fire were outshot by United 9-6 in the first half but the advantage wasn’t reflected on the score board.

In the 29th minute, Nowak’s quick combination with Razov saw the Fire captain into the box on the left.  Now in, the former Polish international simply slid the ball across to an open Jerzy Podbrozny who slotted past Tom Presthus to give the Fire a 1-0 lead.

It was Nowak again helping to pad the Fire’s lead just before halftime. This time, the future Ring of Fire inductee cut into the box from the left before unleashing a blast that took a deflection off the chest of Diego Gutierrez, sending Presthus to the right while the ball trickled in on the left.

As he had in so many previous playoff matches, Zach Thornton stood tall in the second half, making six saves and visibly frustrating United to give the Fire an unprecedented MLS Cup title in their expansion season.

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21 October 10:16 am

Saturday night’s flat performance at New England combined with results in New York, D.C. and Houston have put the Fire in a precarious position going into this weekend's regular season finale vs. United. With all five playoff teams now known, the result for the Men in Red means the team could literally still be seeded anywhere from second to fifth in the East come Sunday morning…

With only one regular season game left, this will be the last edition of Playoff Math for 2012 where I look at each team's best and worst case scenarios and potential seedings. Enjoy!

1) Sporting KC 
Current Points: 60 (40 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/2
Last Game: vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Things have worked pretty well for KC heading into the playoffs. Saturday night they went and earned a second result in New York this season and combined with the Fire’s failure at New England, have nearly locked down the top spot in the East. At the very least, they'll finish second.

The Best Case: All they need to do is earn a draw in their final game against Philadelphia to take the top seed.

The Worst Case: A loss to Philly at midweek combined with a D.C.win over the Fire would push Sporting down to second based on the Goals For tiebreaker. 

Beyond just being a solid team, Sporting have more than earned their position in the table by being smart about how they’ve earned results in difficult places to play.

2) D.C. United
Current Points: 57 (52 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/4
Last Game:  at Chicago (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: D.C. was the biggest mover of the night and did it all in dramatic fashion by coming back from two deficits to eventually down the Columbus 3-2 behind Lewis Neal’s stoppage time strike. The win propelled United past the Fire and into second, qualified them for their first postseason berth since 2007 all the while helping to end the Crew’s postseason hopes.

The Best Case: A win Saturday against the Fire combined with a Sporting loss to Philadelphia would push United to first in the East. They could still lock down second on Saturday with just a draw against Chicago. 

The Worst Case: A loss to the Fire and a New York win over Philadelphia would push D.C. to fourth and force them to host the Eastern Conference play-in game on October 31 or November 1.

3) Chicago Fire 
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 2/5
Last Game: vs. D.C. United (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: After winning seven of eight in late summer and fall, the Men in Red have dropped their last three of four. There is reason to be nervous but be glad the team is home and can still control their own destiny as it comes to earning a higher seed.

The Best Case: All it would take for the Fire to lock up second in the East is a win at home against D.C. on Saturday.

The Worst Case: New York will end its match with Philadelphia a half hour before kickoff at Toyota Park -- If the Red Bulls win and the Fire lose or draw against D.C. the team will at least be condemned to fourth place.

Then the team will point its eyes to Denver where Colorado hosts Houston (8pm CT) in the final match of the 2012 MLS regular season – if the Dynamo win with a Fire loss against DC, the Men in Red will fall to fifth and open up the postseason at Houston. If the Fire draw against D.C., they’ll remain fourth regardless of what happens in Colorado.  

4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 54 (54 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
Last Game:  at Philadelphia (10/27; 12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: New York will be disappointed to not have done more against Sporting KC in two huge home games towards the end of the season but will be happy to go into the final weekend with a playoff berth locked.

The Best Case:  Because the Fire and United play and are already ahead of New York, there is no way for Red Bull to finish higher than third. With that in mind, all they need to do is defeat Philadelphia to lock in third place and avoid the play-in game.

The Worst Case: A draw or less to Philadelphia and then Red Bull will also be watching the Houston/Colorado match closely that night. A Houston win would mean the Dynamo would at the very least host New York in the play-in game, while a draw or loss would mean Red Bull would host the Dynamo.

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 53 (48 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
last Game:  at Colorado (10/27 8pm CT on Direct Kick/MLS Live)

The Rundown: Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia Saturday night combined with D.C.’s victory over Columbus clinched the 2011 MLS Cup finalists a place back in the playoffs. Because of their appearance in last year’s championship match, the Dynamo also have to juggle the final group game of CONCACAF Champions League play this Wednesday when they welcome Honduran side Olimipa to BBVA Compass Stadium.

Luckily for the Dynamo, they need only a draw in the game to ensure advancement to the next round ahead of having to close out the regular season and fight for positioning in the East with a  match at altitude in Colorado.

The Best Case: The Dynamo could finish as high as third in the East if both New York and Chicago lose their games earlier in the day and Houston defeats Colorado.

The Worst Case: The Fire and Red Bull both win their earlier matches condemning the Dynamo to fifth and rendering the game that night at Colorado meaningless.  In that case, Houston would travel to D.C. United for the play-in game.

19 October 7:59 am

The Fire stopped a two-game skid in convincing fashion last time out, beating New York 2-0 at Red Bull Arena. The team travels to New England Saturday night (LIVE 6pm CT on NBC 5.2) to play a Revolution team riddled with injuries and eliminated from the playoff race. As we saw two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Union, a team playing for pride can be extremely dangerous so there is no room for complacency. Here are some things to look for from a tactical standpoint.

Jerry Bengtson - stopping the target man

New England's designated player, Jerry Bengtson, has settled very well in MLS since his arrival halfway through 2012. The Honduran plays the same role as Sherjill MacDonald does for the Fire, holding up the ball and looking to combine with the advancing midfielders. Bengtson also likes to roam into wide positions, encouraging his support players to move into the space he vacates.

Bengtson also comes into the game on a high after scoring a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of Canada in San Pedro Sula Tuesday night. It is commonplace for an international returning his club team after representing his country twice in four days to start the game from the bench but given New England's injury crisis, it is a near certainty that he will be leading the line come Saturday night. 

WATCH: Matko's Take on New England

 

Cutting off the supply to Bengtson is very important.

Juan Toja - a creative spark from the bench

Since joining the Revs over a month ago, Toja has made four appearances, all from the bench. The former Dallas player showed what he is capable of in New England's last game against Philadelphia, coming on for the last twenty minutes and making a big impact.

Toja is a player who wants the ball at all times, often dropping deep to collect it and start an attack. Against the Union, he looked to get the ball wide as much as possible but also looked to take on players whenever the opportunity arose.

It is obvious that Toja is not 100% match fit and unlikely he will start on Saturday night, but he will almost certainly be the first man off the bench, especially if the Revs need a goal. The Union did not adjust to Toja coming on and allowed the midfielder far too much room to create, something the Fire will need to prevent if he makes an appearance.

Fire attack - no need to force it

In the Fire's last game in New York, the team for the most part played as any good away team should, absorbing pressure and counter attacking whenever possible. The team also did well to retain possession but at times were guilty of trying to force the ball forward, sometimes resulting in a careless giveaway, especially in the final third of the field.

The aim was to get the ball to advanced forward Sherjill MacDonald, either directly to his feet so he could hold the ball up or to play a ball into the channels for MacDonald to run onto. At times this was very successful, but the midfield seemed desperate to get the ball up the pitch, instead of playing the simple pass and retaining possession.

The main culprit of this of late is Uruguayan Flaco Fernandez who has had a slight dip in form since being recalled to the Uruguayan National Team. Fernandez is vital to the Fire's attack and the New England game provides him with an opportunity to rediscover the blistering form he was in a few weeks ago.

Double teaming in defense - leads to counter attacks

Against New York, the Fire did a much better job of pressuring their opponents instead of sitting back and allowing them to come and attack them. Often the Fire would double team an opponent in order to win the ball back which was very successful.

Both goals the Fire scored against the Red Bulls came from forcing a turnover by double or sometimes triple teaming the opposition. To do it successfully, the outside midfielders much at times tuck in to support the center mids or drop deep to support the outside defenders.

The other key element of the double teaming tactic is to quickly counter when you do win the ball. The Fire did not give New York enough time to adjust after losing possession and thanks to the runs and finishes of Sherjill MacDonald, the Men in Red were able to leave New York with all three points. Look for the Fire to continue this trend against New England this weekend, especially when a player like Toja gets the ball.

Prediction: The Fire avenge a loss at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season by winning 2-0. Goals from Chris Rolfe and Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Berry.

Prediction Record since August 4: 6-3

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

18 October 11:18 am

Homegrown midfielder Victor Pineda gave fans a little help with their Fire withdrawals over the international break, scoring a highlight reel goal in Reserve team’s 2-1 loss at Houston on Saturday.

The goal stood as the 19-year-old midfielder’s second in 2012 MLS Reserve League play this season and was deemed good enough to garner nearly 2,000 views on YouTube and make the front of MLSsoccer.com on Thursday morning.

“He’s maturing and I think every year its better,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “The Reserve League gives him that opportunity to stay sharp. It’s good that he scored but more important is that he played well – his ability to understand without the ball you need to be able to defend and work hard without the ball – he’s getting better at that.

The rocket strike has led some Fire fans who have only had the opportunity to see the club’s first Homegrown player in Reserve and friendly matches to clamor for his competitive debut before the end of the season.

Given the Fire could still clinch first place in the East and also put themselves in a position for CONCACAF Champions League qualification, one might a 2012 debut might not be in the cards but Klopas left the possibility open.

 “We just have to see how the game situation goes. A lot is up to him and how he does in training as well. He’s a young player, you have to understand that it takes time with him. His attitude is good, he’s sharp and playing well in the Reserve matches so it shows me that he’s ready to contribute if we need him to.”

With Alvaro Fernandez coming off more than a week away with Uruguay as well as travel back Stateside, Saturday's game at New England could provide a perfect substitute opportunity for young Vic.  

WATCH: Victor Pineda Golazo in Houston

17 October 9:17 am

Alvaro Fernandez made his 12th cap and first appearance for Uruguay since November 2011, coming on as a substitute in la Celeste’s 4-1 loss against Bolivia in the high climbs of La Paz Tuesday night. Already down 4-0 by the time he entered the match for Diego Forlan in the 65th minute, Uruguay would pull a goal back through Liverpool striker Luis Suarez’s 80th minute free kick.
 
The loss extends Uruguay’s winless run in qualifying to four matches, with the sole point in that time coming in the team’s 1-1 home draw against Ecuador last month. Even with the slump Uruguay sits in fifth place playoff spot, tied with Venezuela and Chile on 12 points after nine matches played.
 
Fernandez will hope to be back in the squad when CONMEBOL qualifying resumes with a home match against Paraguay on March 22.
 
Flaco will return to Chicago tonight and is expected to be available for the Fire’s match Saturday at New England.

17 October 8:47 am

In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with blazingly fast Ghanaian striker Dominic Oduro. Oduro joined the Men in Red from the Houston Dynamo in March 2011, quickly becoming a fan favorite. Becoming the first Fire player since 2004 to hit double-digit goals in a season, Dominic was named the club’s 2011 Most Valuable Player and also garnered Section 8 Chicago’s 2011 Supporter’s Player of the Year award. This year, Dominic has scored six goals and added three assists while appearing in 31 of the Fire’s 32 matches. Dominic took the time to answer our Burning Questions about where he prefers to get his coffee, his favorite TV shows and which MLS player he would race to settle the “Fastest Man in MLS” debate.
 
Always on the Inside: You graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Sociology. Why did you choose that major and what was the most interesting class you took in college?
 
Dominic Oduro: I chose that because I was making bad grades in Economics, so I had to take the easy path. I also loved the fact that it dealt with social life, and that is one of my interests so I decided to get into it. The most interesting class I took was Sociology of Religion. It taught me about religion and how people pursue it, and I thought it was really cool.
 
AOTI: Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks?
 
DO: Dunkin. I want Dunkin to call me right now. I’ve been trying to Tweet them; I need some promotion from them. My regular order is a medium coffee with cream and sugar. And I love strawberry cream cheese with a plain bagel.
 
AOTI: Any scouting report on you focuses on your blazing speed. Are you fast in other aspects of your life?
 
DO: I have a fast car. I’m just the slowest when it comes to walking. I have the slowest pace ever when it comes to walking.
 

Editor’s Note: Dominic conducted the fastest interview in Burning Questions history with a time of 3 minutes and 56 seconds, blowing past his closest competitor, Hunter Jumper, who clocked in at 7 minutes and 2 seconds.
 
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween this year and what’s the best costume you’ve ever had?
 
DO: I’m thinking about being a baby. I’ll just put on a diaper and put a pacifier in my mouth, and just walk around like a baby. One time I was Morpheus from “The Matrix.” I really killed that costume.
 
AOTI: What is one fashion trend you used to wear but would be embarrassed to wear now?
 
DO: I used to wear baggy jeans. Looking back at it now, I just shake my head and think, “Why was I wearing that?”
 
AOTI: You just discovered an island. What do you name it?
 
DO: Freaky Dom Island.
 
AOTI: If you could live in any TV show or movie, which one would you choose?
 
DO: “Fringe.” It’s one of my favorite shows. I love it.
 
AOTI: What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
 
DO: I’m very picky with my songs. I have one; I had Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” one time, and I was scratching my head as to why I put that on.
 
AOTI: What’s a typical day like in the life of Dominic Oduro?
 
DO: I sit on my couch and watch TV all day.
 
AOTI: What TV shows do you like?
 
DO: I like “Two and a Half Men.” I love that show. And “Fringe” and “Scandal.” I really like that one.
 
AOTI: Who is the one MLS player that you would like to race to finally put the “Fastest Man in MLS” debate to bed?
 
DO: [Colorado Rapids defender] Marvell Wynne. Period. Just put everything to bed.
 
AOTI: If the opportunity ever presented itself, would you challenge Usain Bolt?
 
DO: I would want to race him for the fun of it. I know I’m going to lose, so I can’t even think about beating Usain Bolt. But I would race him for the fun of it.

16 October 12:10 pm

The trophy cases in the Chicago Fire lobby got a new addition last week, courtesy of the youngest members of the Fire organization. The Chicago Fire U-10 Academy team, playing up an age group, won the U-11 Crew Fall Classic Championship with a commanding 7-2 victory over the Crew Juniors Gold East on October 7. Before heading out to training last Thursday, the team was on hand to personally place their trophy in its place of honor.
 
For the young team, the Crew Fall Classic was their first opportunity to play together in a tournament.
 
"They really impressed me a lot over the weekend," said Head Coach Charlie Trout. "They really came together as a team and performed at a very high level. They started to build an identity as a team and as the tournament went on, their individual personalities really started to show. It was a great experience for them and I feel like they turned a big corner that weekend."
 
Perhaps what made the victory even sweeter was that it was against the Crew.
 
"A lot of the boys support the Chicago Fire," said Trout. "They know how huge the rivalry is between the Fire and the Crew, so that added a little more excitement for them."
 
And if displaying their trophy alongside the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy from the Fire's historic 1998 MLS Cup victory wasn't enough excitement, the U-10s were given a special treat when Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas stopped by and addressed the team. Klopas spoke to the youngest members of the Fire family about the honor and responsibility that comes along with wearing the Fire badge.
 
"There have been times where Frank has come out and watched the boys train. You see the way they look over, see who he is and their excitement rises," said Trout. "For them to get the trophy that they worked so hard for and put it in the trophy cabinet that involves the whole club is fantastic for the young boys. It gives them such a confidence booster. It's great for them."

15 October 11:19 am

After taking a weekend off from MLS play, the Men in Red return to action when they head to Bean Town for their third match of the season against the New England Revolution on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. CT (NBC5.2/97.5 ESPN Deportes). With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Fire are still within reach of the Eastern Conference crown.
 
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko said that now that the Fire have officially clinched a spot in the playoffs, the focus will be on gaining the top seed in the conference. Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was “frustrating,” said Nyarko. “We should be a perennial playoff team.”
 
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, who joined the team at the end of July, is destined to be a huge part of the Fire’s post-season run. Now that he has had time to settle in and get acclimated to the team and to the city, MacDonald says, “I’m very comfortable with this group. I’m very happy.”
 
One player who missed the dreary Chicago weather this weekend was Alvaro Fernadnez, who is with Uruguay for two World Cup Qualifiers. Flaco and Uruguay fell 3-0 to Argentina behind a Lionel Messi brace, and one writer finally put the Diego Maradona-Lionel Messi debate to bed. “Lionel Messi is not Diego Maradona,” said Zach Woosley. “In fact, he’s better…much better.”
 
Flaco and Uruguay have one more match this week when they take on Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, Bolivia on Oct. 16.

15 October 9:01 am

A lot has changed since my last Playoff Math entry. The team had just come off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Sporting KC while almost no other result in the East had gone the Fire’s way that weekend.  The team would follow the loss to KC up with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Philadelphia on Anniversary  Night before earning a solid 2-0 win at New York three days later.

It all goes to show that Playoff Math isn’t always foolproof but a good read nonetheless. With that here’s the latest update, also recognizing the field in the East is down to six teams with Montreal’s elimination last week…

1) Sporting KC (qualified)
Current Points: 59 (40 GF)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 44.5
Magic Number (for first place): 4
Remaining Schedule:  at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Sporting KC took a potential blow to their first place bid by leaving two points on the field late at Crew Stadium last Sunday. KC still has the inside track to finishing top of the conference for the second straight season but will have to navigate a tricky match at Red Bull this week to get there. If they can earn another win in New York, they’’ all but clinch the top spot in the East, then needing only a win the following Wednesday home to Philadelphia.

2) Chicago Fire (qualified)
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)

Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points:  41. 5
Magic Number (to first place): 9
Remaining Schedule:   at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

The Rundown: Despite falling in two of the last three matches, the Fire are in the playoffs and still find themselves with a reasonable shot at taking first in the East with the Sporting/Red Bull match looming this weekend. If Red Bull is able to win and the Fire can come away from New England victorious as well on Saturday, they’ll be even on points with first place Kansas City and actually ahead on the first tie breaker (goals for).

That scenario would almost assuredly just require a Fire win on the final of the season vs. DC United to lock down first place (Sporting KC would have make up 6+ goals on Philadelphia in order to jump over the Fire.

More incentive to keep in mind… Should the Fire win their final two games, they’ll at least finish third overall in the MLS standings, giving them a real shot at the CONCACAF Champions League should either Sporting KC or San Jose make MLS Cup.

3) D.C. United
Current Points: 54
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 52.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 2
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: D.C. has the most difficult remaining schedule of the group but with them hosting sixth-place Columbus Saturday, can step into the playoffs with just a draw Saturday against the Crew.  With United facing the Fire on the final day of the season, D.C. has plenty of incentive to go for wins in both games in order to possibly finish with home field advantage in the first round. Should the Fire and Sporting KC completely collapse the Capital City club even has an outside shot at first in the East.  

4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Average Opponents Points: 47.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 3
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: New York’s form the last four games combined with front office shake ups and chatter about head coach Hans Backe’s status for next year can’t fill a Red Bull fan full of confidence. Still, they control their own playoff destiny and can qualify as well as play spoiler this weekend with a win at home vs. Sporting KC.

With the Red Bulls going 10-0-3 through their first 13 matches this season at Red Bull Arena, both Sporting and the Fire found the chink in the armor there in recent weeks. Even still, New York remains 11-2-3 at home this year and shouldn’t be underestimated with their backs a bit against the wall on Saturday.

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Points: 33.5
Magic Number: 6
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Despite having a reasonably easy schedule to close the 2012 campaign, Houston has made things sort of difficult on themselves down the stretch, going 1-1-1 in their last three matches all against sides outside of the playoff picture. Luckily, they still have the easiest schedule of all remaining playoff teams, hosting Philadelphia this weekend before visiting Colorado on the 27th.

With that high-altitude trip looming on the final day, the Dynamo would do well to take care of business Saturday against the Union where a win would necessitate just a draw on at the Rapids. A win Saturday combined with a Crew loss at DC would push Houston back into the playoffs for the second straight season.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Points: 38
Magic Number: 8
Remaining Schedule: at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28)

The Rundown: Another late goal last Sunday at home vs. Sporting KC likely salvaged the Crew’s season, keeping the team within one point of fifth place Houston heading into a harrowing six-pointer Saturday at DC.

A victory keeps the team in the playoff hunt heading into the last match of the season, a very winnable home game vs. Toronto. A win plus a Houston draw or loss puts the Crew in the driver’s seat. They’ve played with nothing to lose since August, no reason they should stop now.

From a traveling fan perspective, all of Fire nation should want the Crew to sneak into the playoffs and the Fire to have a chance at them in the first round. 

This Week's Predictions:
New York Red Bulls 2, Sporting KC 1 
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0
D.C. United 1, Columbus Crew 1
Houston Dynamo 2, Philadelphia Union 1

If those hold true the standings coming out of the weekend would be...

1) x-Chicago - 59pts. (47 GF)
2) x-Sporting KC - 59pts. (41 GF)
3) x-New York - 56pts. (56 GF)
4) x-D.C. United - 55pts. (50 GF)
5) Houston - 53pts. (47 GF)
----------------------------------------
6) Columbus - 50pts. (41 GF)

Let's hope I'm right!

13 October 9:10 am

With only one Chicago Fire player away on international duty, this could have been a very short international wrap.

Taking a different angle, my aim is to show the international nature of the current roster by recapping how all of the first team player’s national sides did in World Cup qualification Friday night…

Uruguay – Called back to Uruguay for the first time in a while, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez was an unused sub, watching from the sidelines as a Lionel Messi brace led Argentina to a 3-0 win over La Celeste in Mendoza.

Flaco and Uruguay remain in fourth place in CONMEBOL qualification and will hope to rebound on Tuesday when they travel to La Paz for a match against second from bottom Bolivia.

USA – The Fire’s American contingent might have been biting their finger nails much of Friday night as Juergen Klinsmann’s side eeked out a late 2-1 victory at Antigua & Barbuda. Making his first national team appearance since 2010, forward Eddie Johnson nodded the U.S. ahead in the 20th minute before Antigua’s Dexter Blackstock equalized five minutes later.

With the U.S. looking disjointed for much of the second half, Johnson would reward Klinsmann’s confidence in him by heading home U.S. debutant Alan Gordon’s 90th minute cross to give the American’s a 2-1 win.

That victory combined with Guatemala’s 2-1 win over Jamaica (in which former Fire midfielder Marco Pappa played 68 minutes) means the Americans and los Chapines sit tied on 10 points and need only a draw against each other on Tuesday for both teams to advance to next year’s final round hexagonal.

Costa Rica – In the Group B rubber match, Fire defender Gonzalo Segares got an early birthday present as Jose Cubero’s 31st minute goal stood to give Costa Rica a valuable 1-0 victory away to El Salvador.

With the win, los Ticos return to San Jose needing only to defeat a lowly Guyana side that has taken just one point from five matches in order to advance.\. Costa Rica defeated Guyana 4-0 during their earlier group game played in Georgetown.

Mexico – Already qualified for the final round, Pavel Pardo and Guillermo Franco might have looked on Friday night to see Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta, Andrew Guardado and Angel Reyna strike to help Mexico batter Guyana 5-0 in Houston.

They’ll close out the semifinal round Tuesday night against El Salvador in Torreon.

The Netherlands – Former Dutch youth international Sherjill MacDonald may or may not have watched as Rafael Van der Vaart, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Reuben Schaken eased the Dutch to a 3-0 victory over Andorra in Rotterdam.

The victory keeps Holland with a perfect nine points through three matches in UEFA’s Group D ahead of the team’s visit to also perfect Romania Tuesday in Bucharest.

Germany – Arne Friedrich was probably grinning from ear to ear Friday afternoon as Die Mannschaft demolished the Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin. Germany got braces from Marco Reus and Toni Kroos as well as single strikes from Miroslav Klose and Mesut Oezil in the win.

Sitting alone atop Group C with a perfect 9 points from three matches, the Germans return to face second-place Sweden in Berlin on Tuesday.

 Italy – Paolo Tornaghi’s Azzuri had a little trouble in the first half but eventually overpowered Armenia 3-1 in Yerevan. Andrea Pirlo put the Italians ahead with an 11th minute penalty before Henrigh Mkhitaryan equalized in the 28th, taking the teams into the break at 1-1.

Italy would respond with two goals in the second half through Daniele De Rossi (64’) and Pablo Osvaldo (82’) to earn the three road points.

The victory keeps the Italians on top of UEFA Group B with seven points ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Denmark in Milan.