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Columbus Crew

13 October 2:22 pm

Bet you didn't see that title coming two weeks ago did you? 

While much of MLS sat idle this weekend, teams in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race nearly played a full slate with perhaps the Fire coming away as the biggest winners from the weekend’s results.

A look at where the race stands heading into the final two weeks of the season...

x - 1) New York Red Bulls 
Current Points: 53 (15-9-8)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWWW (11pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 47.0
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York sat idle this weekend, letting the rest of the Eastern Conference catch up to them on games played. Already qualified for the playoffs, Red Bull will be watching the Cascadia clash between Seattle and Portland closely Sunday night as it will have significant implications on the Supporters Shield race.

Red Bull will certainly be in the mix for their first true silverware the last two weeks of the season but with so many teams still in contention for the hardware, Fire fans shouldn’t expect New York to put out a weaker lineup on the last day of the season.

A win this week vs. Houston would at the very least lock up a top two finish in the East for New York while a loss would make things very interesting…

x - 2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 52 (15-10-7)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5: DWLWW (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 7-5-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 31
Remaining Schedule: 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC could have controlled their own destiny for the top spot in the East if they would have won out but Wednesday’s draw at Houston means they’ve relinquished that opportunity to New York.

Still, Sporting welcomes D.C. United this weekend and will no doubt be in the equation for both that top spot and potentially the Supporters Shield race on the final day of the season.

By virtue of the draw between Philadelphia and D.C. United Saturday, they also locked down a playoff berth. A win Saturday vs. D.C. and Sporting will lock in a top two finish in the East.

3) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 48 (13-10-9)
Games Remaining: 1 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWWL (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-4 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 34.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: The midweek draw vs. Sporting KC cooled off the Dynamo’s hot streak just a bit, leaving them exposed to a potential drop in the standings at the weekend. Fortunately for Houston, Montreal fell to New England and the Dynamo are still in with a small chance for a top of the East finish.

With three games in eight days to end the season, the Dynamo have a huge week ahead of them beginning Saturday vs. New York.

How the qualify this week: A win over New York combined with a Philadelphia loss or draw to Montreal or a win over New York combined with a Philadelphia draw/win and a Chicago loss or draw to Toronto FC.

4) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-11-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home/ 2 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLL (1pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-4-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 39
Remaining Schedule: 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Long holders of the Eastern Conference top spot the first half of the season, Montreal are now winless in their last five following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to New England.

Montreal still hold a game in hand over the rest of the East but make that up with a tough midweek match Wednesday at LA. In that game the Impact will be down two starters in Matteo Ferrari and Davy Arnaud due to yellow card accumulation while Landon Donovan returns to the Galaxy from U.S. Men’s National Team duty.

A loss in that match and Montreal will officially be in the dog fight for one of the knockout playoff spots and will have to recover quickly as they’ll host fellow contender Philadelphia three days later.

How they qualify this week: Two wins vs. LA and Philadelphia is the simplest way but a combined four points with the win coming against Philadelphia along with either a New England loss/draw to Columbus or a Fire loss to Toronto FC.

5) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 46 (13-12-7)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWDLW (10pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 39.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: Following the disappointing 2-2 draw to Montreal on September 28, naysayers said the Fire should give up on the season and “play the kids” with only home game remaining out of their final four.

Two weeks later, they've won two straight MLS games for the first time since early July and both of them came on the road. Naysayers…

Now above the red line and tied on points with Montreal (and Philadelphia), the Fire are actually in a position where they could clinch a playoff berth this weekend and still have the possibility to finish in the East’s top three spots, something that would have been unthinkable back in mid-May.

With two games left, the Fire control their own playoff destiny and after two confidence boosting victories, have a very winnable game in Saturday's home finale vs. Toronto FC. 

How they qualify this week: A Chicago win over Toronto FC combined with a Philadelphia loss vs. Montreal and a New England loss or draw vs. Columbus.  

With the Chicago and Philadelphia even on points, how would this work you ask? If the Fire won and Union lost, couldn’t they still catch the Fire on points? Yes, but they would only tie Chicago and the Fire would already have a two-game edge in the first tie breaker which is total wins.

With both Montreal/Philadelphia and New England/Columbus ending before the Fire/TFC game, Saturday could be a very special night at Toyota Park. Get your tickets!

6) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 46 (12-10-10)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home  / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-5 / 5-6-5
Maximum Possible Points: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 49
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: For two weeks in a row, Philadelphia have needed a very late goal to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. On Saturday though Jack McInerney’s strike was only good enough to equalize with lowly D.C. United, meaning the Union missed out on a huge opportunity to gain crucial points ahead of what will be two tough matches at Montreal and vs. Sporting KC to end the season.

How they qualify this week: Even if Philadelphia beats Montreal (and the Impact have lost to LA at midweek) and the Fire and Revolution both lose to Toronto and Columbus respectively, Philly would still need to get a point in the final week against Sporting KC.

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 45 (12-11-9)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WDDWL (8pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Pts: 41
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England bounced back well from a disappointing 2-2 draw last week at New York, earning a valuable 1-0 away win in Montreal but still find themselves in a difficult spot after the Fire win in Dallas and Philly’s last gasp draw in D.C.

An odd home-and-home series with Columbus (who are now all but out of the playoff race) will help determine their playoff fate but even if they win both matches to close the season, they’ll need help in the form of two teams above them dropping points. With Montreal, Chicago and Philadelphia all just one point ahead and the Impact and Union facing each other this week, New England still has plenty to play for.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-15-5)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-6-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 47
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Revolution and Fire wins as well as the Union draw pretty much put to bed the Crew’s hopes for the postseason. It’s not that they’re mathematically out, it’s just that it’s damn near improbable that all the results that would need to go Columbus’ way would.

It’s not even worth getting into with two weeks left but if they can play a little spoiler and win at New England this weekend and are still in the hunt on the final day, I’ll explain it next week. 

07 October 8:34 am

The Fire and a few other results went their way this weekend. Still, the Men in Red remain just below the red line, two points back of the final playoff spot in the East with three matches left to play.

A breakdown of the weekend and what it means for the current Eastern Conference playoff picture…

x - 1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53 (15-9-8)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWWW (11pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 45.0
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York held a long lead, controversy ensued, New England went up 2-1 late only to see Tim Cahill bag an incredible header to see Red Bull walk away with a 2-2 draw and eventually become the first team in MLS to clinch a playoff berth.

Still, the game will feel like a missed opportunity at home for a team still hoping to win the Supporters Shield and lock down the Eastern Conference top seed. The result is disappointing from a Fire perspective for two reasons: 1) It gives New England an extra point and 2) It almost assuredly makes Red Bull’s home game vs. the Fire on October 27 all the more meaningful.

New York will take a break off this week before visiting high-flying Houston on October 20.

2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51 (15-10-6)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5: WLWWW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 7-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 35.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC did exactly what they needed to do, getting a well-earned 1-0 victory at Columbus Saturday night. The result means Sporting has earned just three points less on the road than they have at home this season – a somewhat incredible away record in MLS terms.

KC controls their own destiny for Eastern Conference top spot but faces a very tough test Wednesday vs. a Dynamo side that jumped up to third this weekend. A Sporting win in that match automatically puts them into the playoffs but they can also make it with a combination draw and Fire draw or loss would also do the trick.

3) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 47 (13-10-8)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.7
Remaining Schedule: 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Houston continued their climb up the table with their third straight win Friday vs. Montreal. Things looked bleak for the Dynamo in early September but the side now seems destined to once again reach the playoffs and with back-to-back matches vs. Sporting KC and New York, their ascent might not stop at third place.

All we can say is, typical Houston Dynamo…

4) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-10-7)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home/ 2 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLLW (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Montreal fell again 1-0 at Houston Friday night, moving the side that spent much of the regular season at the top of the East all the way down to fourth place. The Impact still hold a game in hand on everyone and both of their remaining home matches are six-pointers against New England (this week) and Philadelphia (October 19). If they can recover from their down form and win those games, they should still be in the playoffs.

5) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 45 (12-10-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home  / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLLD (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-5 / 5-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 37.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: There was a point Saturday night in which it looked like all three Eastern Conference games would go the Fire’s way, then Kleberson’s 96th minute free kick happened, giving Philadelphia a crucial 1-0 home win over Toronto FC.

With that win, the Union stayed above the red line, two points ahead of the Fire with three matches remaining. Philly will look to take advantage of Saturday’s game at lowly D.C. before having to close with tough matches at Montreal and vs. Sporting KC.

6) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 43 (12-12-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLWD (7pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 3-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 40
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: The Fire did the business with a 3-0 win at D.C. on Friday night and if not for Kleberson’s late free kick in Philly, would have sat in fifth place to end the weekend.

The Fire visit FC Dallas who kept their quite slim Western Conference playoff hopes alive with a 1-1 draw vs. Real Salt Lake Saturday. With the Galaxy destroying Chivas USA and even Vancouver picking up a point vs. Portland Sunday, it doesn’t look good for Dallas, who are seven points out of the final playoff spot with three games to go, meaning a loss Saturday would officially be there end of the season.

On the other hand, the Fire are 3-12-2 all-time in Dallas and will go for their second straight away win on Saturday – a feat the team has achieved just once in the past four seasons. A win in Frisco will put the Fire in prime position with a home match vs. Toronto looming.

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 42 (11-11-9)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWLL (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Pts: 42.6
Remaining Schedule: 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England were no doubt the biggest losers from this weekend’s results, scoring two goals to go up 2-1 late only to have Cahill’s 96th minute header serve as a huge gut punch. A visit to Montreal, who are also coming off a loss at Houston, looms quite large and defeat in Quebec could do serious damage to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Still, the home-and-home vs. Columbus to close the season will keep things interesting for the Revolution and at the very least, likely keep them in the mix until the final weekend.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-15-5)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-6-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 47
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: As great as the Crew’s run under interim head man Brian Bliss was, all it would take was another loss to deal a horrible blow to their playoff hopes. The Crew will now take their bye week but they need to win their remaining two matches and hope for major help around the East in order to make the playoffs.

There’s still a chance but it’s just not very good.

30 September 11:43 am

After Saturday’s difficult to swallow 2-2 draw vs. Montreal, you may not want to read this week’s Playoff Math. Though sitting eighth currently, it’s important to remember the Fire are just two points out of the final playoff place, with four games left.

With that, let’s continue the Playoff Math…

1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 52 (15-9-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWWW (13pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-3 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 41.7
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York did a great job to get a point away to Seattle Sunday night and though they may not get the Supporters Shield, are still in good position for the top spot in the East. Red Bull can clinch a playoff place with a draw Saturday vs. New England.

Fire fans should hope for New York to win that game as well as October 20 at Houston, not only because it takes max points off teams Chicago can still catch but it could make their season finale vs. the Fire less meaningful, with the Fire almost certainly needing a result in that match to make the postseason.

2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 48 (14-10-6)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 6-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 35.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Fortress Sporting Park? Maybe not so much, as KC dropped their fifth home match of the season vs. Philadelphia Friday night. They didn’t lose their second place positioning but they took a definite hit in keeping up with Red Bull at the top of the East. With three of their remaining four matches away, KC also has the distinction of the best road record in the East at 6-5-3.

A win away to Columbus combined with a Fire and New England losses would see Sporting KC earn a playoff spot this weekend.

3) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-9-7)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home/ 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DLLWD (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 40.3
Remaining Schedule:  @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: After a missed penalty, a hit off the post, a goal line clearance and hopeful header, Montreal no doubt felt lucky to leave Toyota Park with a point Saturday night.

Now done with Champions League play, the Impact can concentrate solely on their playoff position and hold a game in hand on the rest of the field. Three of their remaining five matches come against teams directly below them so they can either solidify their place inside the top three, win out and potentially get the top spot from Red Bull or still tank with tough visits to Houston and LA in the offing.

It's Montreal in 2013… You don’t really know what to expect from them but a win this week over the Dynamo combined with Crew, Fire and Revolution losses would see the Impact needing just a point next week vs. New England to earn their first-ever MLS playoff berth.

4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 44 (12-10-8)
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLDL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.8
Remaining Schedule: 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown:  Houston managed their last week quite well, winning in Champions League at midweek before getting enough out of a 1-1 draw at New England. The result keeps them four points ahead of the Revs and with their next two matches against Montreal and Sporting KC, they could legitimately be in second place by October 10.

Losses to both sides however could just as easily push them back out of the playoff bubble but no team outside the top three controls their own destiny in positioning like the Dynamo down the stretch.

5) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 42 (11-10-9)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home  / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLLDL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 5-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 33.8
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: After two weeks below the red line, the Union were the biggest winners this past weekend, coming away with a huge win at Sporting KC. Philly now has the potential to stake a serious claim for a playoff berth if they can get wins vs. Toronto and at D.C. the next two weeks. Six points in those two matches will be a must with the Union visiting Montreal and hosting Sporting to close the season out.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-14-5)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLW (12pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-5-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 42.5
Remaining Schedule:  10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: Wow. The Crew continued their incredible push for a postseason berth with a 4-2 road win at FC Dallas on Sunday. They’ve now taken four wins from five matches under interim head man Brian Bliss and jumped from eighth to sixth place over the weekend, just one point out of playoff position.

Having played one more game than the rest of the pack, the Crew still have no room for error, with any loss in their final three matches doing serious damage to their playoff hopes. Their backs have been against the wall for a month and they’ve responded well.

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 41 (11-11-8)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DWLLD (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 53
Average Opponents Pts: 40.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England missed a definite opportunity in Saturday’s 1-1 home draw vs. Houston. A win would have seen the Revs pull level on points with the Dynamo but instead things stayed the same. New England will now have to try and gain points in difficult road matches at New York and Montreal the next two weeks, a daunting task as the two sides also hold the best home records in the Eastern Conference this year.

Taking points from those two games though will at the very least keep the Revs in the equation for their end-of-season home and home series with Columbus.

8) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 40 (11-12-7)
Games Remaining: 4 (1 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: DLWDL (5pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 2-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 33.3
Remaining Schedule: 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: After coming away disappointed from Saturday’s game and other results pushing the Fire down to eighth, why even bother at this point right? Well because it’s Playoff Math and they're only two points out of playoff position. They also have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the East.

Perspective: Friday’s game is away to a D.C. United side which will play their final meaningful match of the season in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final at Real Salt Lake. Along with three points, the Fire will certainly be looking for revenge for August’s semifinal defeat and will be doing so against a D.C. team that will have played two time zones away, three days earlier.

A win in that match combined with New England and Columbus losses at New York and vs. Sporting KC respectively (possibilities) would see the Fire jump at the very least back to sixth place. A Philadelphia draw home vs. Toronto (maybe less likely) would also see the Fire move back into fifth place (on the wins tiebreaker). A lot that needs to happen for that this weekend but a win will keep the Fire in position regardless.

Then take into account a game at an FC Dallas side that is all but out of the Western Conference playoff picture and the home finale vs. Toronto on October 19.

Dropping five points in three matches the last month leaves the Fire with little room for error anymore but nine points are far from out of the question over the next three games. 

24 September 10:06 am

The Fire's dip back below the red line on Saturday night was one of two moves in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With just over a month to play, certain teams are circling in on a playoff berth while others are battling for position.

The latest edition of Playoff Math awaits you below: 

1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 51 (15-9-6)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWWL (12pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 43.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York watched Montreal lose and Sporting KC win on Saturday, knowing a home game against FC Dallas awaited the following day. It wasn’t a great match but New York utilized a 76th minute own goal from Erick to earn another home result and somewhat quietly move into first place in the Supporters Shield race in the process.

The Red Bulls continue to benefit from the two teams chasing them having Champions League matches but a top of the conference clash awaits them Sunday night when they visit Seattle in a match that could go a long way to decide the first silverware of the season.

A New York win or tie Sunday combined with Fire and Philadelphia Union losses would see the Red Bulls become the first team to qualify for the postseason.

2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 48 (14-9-6)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home / 3 away)
Last 5: WWWLL (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-4-3 / 6-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 34.8
Remaining Schedule: 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Despite a scare, Sporting earned a point against Real Esteli in Champions League play at midweek and will just need another draw vs. Olimpia to guarantee final passage. In MLS play, they fought hard for a 2-1 win at Toronto took benefit of Montreal’s defeat to Vancouver to move into sole possession of second place in the East.

Sporting holds a game in hand over Red Bull but faces three matches against teams fighting for their playoff fate over the next two and a half weeks. Though their remaining schedule is easiest in the East, it will be a battle to stay in second and potentially push for the top spot.

3) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LLWDW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 38.2
Remaining Schedule:  9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: So what’s going on with Montreal? Their 3-0 loss to Vancouver marked their third straight across all competitions and second straight at home in MLS. Like their performances this season, the Impact have a mixed bag through the end of the year. On one hand they hold two games in hand over New York and one over Sporting but face a crucial Champions League match against Heredia on Tuesday night ahead of Saturday’s game vs. the Fire.

Montreal still has a shot in the Champions League but not a great one… Will they turn their complete focus on the Fire and playoff race or try to double-dip this week?

4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 43 (12-10-7)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLDL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 39.8
Remaining Schedule: 9/25 vs. WC**, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown:  After going on an end of summer slump, Houston has run off two straight wins the past two weeks to move firmly into fourth place in the East. They play a crucial Champions League home match Wednesday night vs. W. Connection before opening up a four-game stretch all against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Three of those four matches are at home so after weathering a pretty difficult storm, its safe to say more than anyone, the Dynamo control their own fate in terms of being able to move up into one of the top three spots.

5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 40 (11-11-7)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WLLDW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Pts: 43.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: One week New England is complaining about an offside goal being called back, the next they’re benefiting from it and not saying a peep. This was the case on Diego Fagundez’s tying goal in their 2-1 win over D.C. United. By virtue of that victory and the Fire’s defeat at Columbus, the two sides traded places in the East race this weekend.

The good news for the Fire is that New England has the toughest remaining schedule in the East, with a huge showdown vs. streaking Houston on the horizon this weekend. Back-to-back trips to New York and Montreal follow that clash and could define the Revs season if they don’t manage it the right way.

6) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 39 (11-12-6)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LWDLD (5pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-2 / 2-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 34.8
Remaining Schedule: 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown:  The Fire lost a tough 3-0 result at Columbus on Saturday. It was a game the team went in with the mindset of taking three points and even after going down 1-0, they looked able to do it. Bakary Soumare’s red card made that hope near impossible and as the Fire pushed forward they got caught out twice more.

They now welcome a struggling Montreal side to Toyota Park Saturday and should remember the situation they faced the Impact in back in August -- days after a disappointing U.S. Open Cup defeat to D.C. United, the Fire rebounded with a 2-1 win, a game that stands as one of the team’s biggest results of the season.

While a 3-0 loss at this point in the season can be discouraging, perspective is important as the Fire remain just one point out of the top five. It is imperative for the team to take their remaining two home matches and find a way to get two results on the road to ensure they won't have to depend on other teams for a postseason berth.

7) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-10-9)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home  / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLD (2pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 32.8
Remaining Schedule: 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: The Union were idle this past weekend and will hope to have worked out the kinks that have him on the poorest form out of any team in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Unfortunately for them, they face a huge match Friday night away to a Sporting side that can put themselves on the brink of a postseason berth with a win.

A loss in this match would be devastating to the team’s chances but six points from their following two matches vs. Toronto and D.C. would certainly keep them afloat going into the final two weeks of the season.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 35 (11-14-5)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-5-3 / 4-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Crew continued their late-season run under interim head man Brian Bliss with a resounding 3-0 win over the Fire on Saturday. There’s no doubt that the Crew need help from other teams but their attitude is in the right place to make a late-season run.

Every game is a must-win for the Crew from here on out and they’ll shift their focus to a visit to FC Dallas where they haven’t won since their MLS Cup championship season in 2008.

23 September 5:05 pm

It's good to get an idea of why things happened in a game and there's no better match to start with then to break down the events that saw the Fire lose 3-0 at Columbus on Saturday.

I asked Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich to give tactical explanations on three specific instances in the match... Below are his answers.

Jeff Crandall: The team started off the game well, carrying possession before Dominic Oduro's 15th minute goal... What was the game plan to open up the match? How did it change after going down 1-0?

Leo Percovich: We knew the Crew would come with high pressure on us because they were at home desperate to get three points. We opted the first 15 minutes to play long balls from the back, fight to get possession in midfield and from there build our attacking plays.

This high pressure would create spaces behind their lines and we would look to exploit that. We created three chances and earned two corner kicks in the first 12 minutes – a great start for a team playing on the road.

The Crew’s first goal was unlucky for us. Two times a rebound came for them, under a bad defensive position from our left side instead of a product of a buildup or good playmaking for Columbus which means our plan was working.

After going down 1-0 we had to keep the same idea and style of play: the whole defensive block was still playing well. Chicago is a team that is characterized by recovery after conceding a goal, the consequence was to keep the style under pressure even with a goal down.

JC: Explain the play the led to Bakary Soumare's sending off... (what went wrong?)

LP: We were attacking from our left side with Dilly Duka who tried to connect a pass to Alex, but Chad Marshall intercepted and cleared away with a lucky ball that caught us off guard.

It deflected off of Jeff Larentowicz’s head, and went over Austin Berry who was tight with Jairo Arrieta at the midfield line. Jalil Anibaba was supporting the attack so he couldn’t cover the ball and Sean Johnson wasn’t far enough up to clear it.

This led to Baky taking the diagonal run and the risk to stop the play, and before Arrieta came into the box, he decided to committed the foul and was sent off.

JC: Talk about the difficulties of playing a man down on the road and what was the thinking behind pushing Larentowicz to center back rather than making a defensive substitution when Soumare exited?

LP: Playing with 10 forced us to stay more compact to fill and close spaces quicker, which demanded an extra effort from every player. The transition needs to be done with more precision because you have only one man as target and the rest of the players need to move forward quick to support him around the ball.

The expulsion came early in the game so we opted to keep the same 10 players, adjust them on a new tactical position and hold to the first half to see how we were doing.

We went from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1 moving Larentowicz from center mid to center back, Alex from right mid to center mid, and Mike Magee from forward to a wide midfielder, leaving just Juan Luis Anangono up top.

Not only did the tactical position need to change but also the attitude and mentality too -- you have to be more focused to attend your man and the space created for your man down.

You still have to believe you are going to find the way to come back and score the goal. 

23 September 9:54 am

We knew it was too early to get cocky. Although the Fire managed to overcome, at least in a cathartic sort of way, all the season’s travails in the dramatic comeback-into-playoff-spot win last week against New England, we knew there were six games left to hold onto, improve upon, or lose playoff position.

At that point, four of the six remaining games were away from Toyota Park, which was a scary prospect for the Fire. Like the rest of MLS, the Fire are much worse away from home, and one couldn’t shake the feeling that the Fire would play drug smuggler, in and out of safety every week.

Saturday’s thumping in Columbus didn’t make fans feel any better, and still, three of the five remaining games are away from Toyota Park. But why are the Fire playing worse away from home? A quick run through the stats:

- Overall record: 11-12-6
- Away record: 2-8-4
- Home record: 9-4-2
- Overall goal differential: -7 (36 for, 43 against)
- Away goal differential: -14 (10 for, 24 against)
- Home goal differential: 7 (26 for, 19 against)

Not sterling, it’s true. Goal differential in soccer can be a little overblown as a telling statistic but since it could count in playoff contention it's worth paying attention to. And one thing it shows is that all of MLS is struggling away from home this year. Every team except Kansas City (+1) and Real Salt Lake (0) have road goal differences in the negatives. Seventeen teams are shipping goals away from home!

It’s a strange phenomenon in MLS, and seems to go against the general feeling that, with MLS parity so prevalent, there would be less domination, more draws, etc. Not so, at least not anymore. According to some numbers crunched over at SBN, “MLS has become a league were the home team wins about 50 percent of the time and the road team pulls out three points somewhere around 25 percent.”

But why? There are a few explanations in other American leagues. Grueling travel in the NBA, noise in the NFL, explicit rule advantages in MLB and the NHL - but those factors aren’t so relevant in MLS.

There’s the harder to calculate factor of home vs. away referee decisions, or momentum, or what at least one writer calls the “best sports fans in America,” which, I mean, great, but even if there was a way to prove that, it would be hard to connect fans’ performance with players’.

So let’s accept the mystery for a second. Let’s chalk it up to some combination of discomfort or unfamiliarity with playing surfaces (hi Revs), climates (hola Houston), atmosphere (ok Seattle, we see you), various travel and hotel-related distractions and fatigue (seems like a cop out but ok), refereeing decisions (impossible to prove), and the elusive, metaphysical effects of momentum.

The thing is that MLS is not alone in home team dominance. England has it too. Maybe the issue has less to do with American this-or-that than soccer itself. I would love to find data showing that home team dominance comes from the non-physical aspects of the game. I think something about the invisible, spontaneous, and rapid morphic connections between teammates (the connections that translate into the action we see) make them occur in a smoother way at “home.”

At the very least, it's an apt way to think about the Fire’s away form this year, where even after a dominant home game they can leave town and look like they’ve never played with each other before. Saturday night in Columbus, for example, it seems they left whatever elixir Jeff Larentowicz passed around at half time back in the locker room at Toyota Park. But we’ve seen the Fire turn it the other way around too, as in July, when they lost 3-1 in Vancouver only to beat DC 4-1 at home the next week.

Obviously the Fire will be looking to do the same against the suddenly beatable Montreal at TP on Saturday. Here’s to the morphic energy going as smoothly as possible.

23 September 9:20 am

The first-ever Soccer & Style event benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation was a great success at ROOF on the Wit last Thursday night.

Fire players Jalil Anibaba, Michael Videira, Hunter Jumper, Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares, Quincy Amarikwa Daniel Paladini and goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde all did their best jaunt down the runway for a good cause.

True to form, it was Jumper that stole the show. Watch to find out...

21 September 10:46 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew
Crew Stadium – Sept. 21, 2013
 
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas

On whether, with all of the chances and the red card, it still seemed like a 3-0 game:

No, not at all. We give up the red card and then playing shorthanded, and the first goal was soft. We were coming from behind. Really, we pushed the game. We had chances to tie the game and it doesn’t go your way and then they got a PK. For me, it’s all questionable, but regardless, the team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.

On whether, down 1-0 at half, Chicago was trying to tie the game or still get three points:

You just have to be smart. We had our chances. I think if we would have scored, they would have been under pressure, but we hit the post, we had some good opportunities in the final third and sometimes it just isn’t your night.

On trying to beat a team four times in a season:


It isn’t easy to beat a team four times in one season, but it’s very difficult when you’re playing shorthanded also. We played for the majority of the game, almost 60 minutes, shorthanded, and the guys competed and left it all on the field. We pushed the game. We took risks because what’s the point? 1-0 or 2-0 you still lose, for me it doesn’t matter at that point. We had the chances and we didn’t get [the goal]. The second goal really kills us, the PK shorthanded, questionable but whatever. It is what it is. We’ve just got to move on.

Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka

On the loss:

We have played this team four times this year – you can’t win them all. This is MLS. They scored an early goal, they played well, and we were a little unlucky. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed. The guy didn’t even touch the ball, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Can’t look back – got to look forward.

On the second half:

We definitely believed we could come back and tie, maybe even win the game. There was no doubt in that locker room at halftime about coming out of this game with a loss.

On ‘new-look’ Crew under Bliss:

I thought they were a good team with Robert [Warzycha]. I think they have good personnel and players, but it was just their day.


Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

On the loss:

We hit the posts, we hit the crossbar, we got opportunities – overall though we were just not good enough. But in the end we have five more games left and we’re right there. We have been in this spot before. We knew it was going to be a tough road game coming in, but we have games to play and there is going to be more opportunities.

On impact of second goal:

The next goal was going to be big. We knew that if we could keep it at one to nothing we could probably develop opportunities and create chances. The second goal was one that put the game out of reach.

On difficulty of beating teams four times a season:

We knew that coming in, but at the same time we were focused on the end result. This is a tough part of the year. We are a team that knows we can do things on the road, but tonight it wasn’t our best and when you’re not on your best you get beat.

20 September 8:57 am

After a dramatic later winner against New England, the Men in Red head to Firehouse East (#FHEAST) Saturday night to face a surging Columbus team (LIVE 6pm CT on My50). Since relieving coach Robert Warzycha of his duties and replacing him with Technical Director Brian Bliss, the Crew have won two of three and remain in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.

The Columbus hierarchy are calling this match a six-pointer and I tend to agree. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Sticking tight to Dominic Oduro – regardless of what position he plays in

In my last preview of a Fire vs. Columbus match, I heaped praise on Oduro and since then, the Ghanaian has continued to put in good performances.

Many in Columbus called for Oduro to be played up top and for the first two games under Brian Bliss this happened but last weekend the ex-Fire man moved to the right wing, making room for Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta to take their places in the middle of the attack.

In truth, Oduro is difficult to contain in either position.

On the wing, his pace forces the outside defenders to be on their guard and not stray too far forward. Hiss crossing is also dangerous -- he looks to get the ball in the box as early as possible, oftentimes playing it low to the ground, bending it around the defenders. These sort of balls are a nightmare to defend and limiting Oduro’s space to cross will be important.

Oduro’s runs also make him a difficult player to mark when he plays up top. In the Crew’s last match against Montreal, he made a brilliant run into the box to get on the end of a sublime through ball from Federico Higuain and score the winner.

It will be an added incentive for the Fire defenders to keep their former teammate off the score sheet on Saturday night.

The midfield battle – Will Trap and Tony Tchani vs Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios

In just a few matches together, Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios have formed quite a formidable partnership in the center of midfield.

In the Crew’s last match against the Impact, Will Trapp continued to start, this time alongside Tony Tchani. This partnership is similar to the Fire’s, with one player advancing to help the attack while the other sits.

Tchani particularly caught the eye, bringing a physical presence that was lacking to the Crew’s midfield. The Cameroonian has surprisingly good foot skills for a burly 6’4’’ midfielder and is equally comfortable playing through balls from deep or driving forward with the ball.

The battle between the two sets of central midfielders will be very interesting to watch, with both trying to catch the other out.

The Fire’s central pair must continue to stay disciplined and not be caught in a situation where both are too far forward. The Fire’s midfield tandem certainly have the edge in experience and I expect them to display that against the younger pair.

Focusing the attacks down the Columbus left – targeting Tyson Wahl and co.

In the first two matches under Brian Bliss, Tyson Wahl returned at left back for the Crew, after sitting out the end of Warzycha’s reign. Wahl didn’t have the best of games in the first two outings of the Bliss era before moving to center back for last week’s match against Montreal.

It remains to be seen what position he starts in on Saturday night but in any case, the left side of defense is certainly a weak link for the Crew and one the Fire should look to exploit.

In the Montreal game, former Fire winger Justin Mapp caused the Crew all sorts of problems from his wide right position. After strong performances for Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in recent weeks, picking two of the four to occupy the wide positions will be a tough decision for Frank Klopas.

I look for Jalil Anibaba to get forward at every opportunity to support the starting right winger and extend the Crew’s defensive woes on the left hand side for another match.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.