Sporting KC just barely rescued first place at the top of the East while the Fire, Red Bulls and United all tightened up the race… An updated breakdown of the week and month and a half a head in this edition of Playoff Math…
WATCH: SKC 1, HOU 1 (9/14/2012)
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 69
Average Opponents Points: 42.6
Remaining Schedule: at New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: By virtue of C.J. Sapong’s late header to equalize with Houston on Friday night, Sporting KC still controls their own destiny for first in the East , if only just barely. The team enters this week with two big away matches, facing third-place Red Bull at midweek and Montreal on Saturday.
Neither game will be easy. With their 3-1 win over Columbus Saturday night, New York moved to 10-0-3 overall at home and a perfect 8-0-0 vs. the Eastern Conference at Red Bull Arena. While those stats are daunting, if Sporting are going to finish first in the East, they’ll likely have to find a way to take four points from this game and their next visit to New York on October 20. If New York stays consistent and beats another East team at home, they will at least momentarily move to first in the East.
Sporting will then head to a somewhat down-trodden Montreal side whose playoff hopes seem only mathematical at this point. Despite that, the Impact’s home form combined with KC playing on just three days rest, will make this a very difficult game for Sporting.
This could be a week where Sporting puts a stamp on the Eastern Conference lead or gives it up completely…
2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 40.1
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)
WATCH: CHI 3, MTL 1 (9/15/2012)
The Rundown: The Fire had a huge week, taking six points at Toronto FC and at home to Montreal Saturday night. In neither match did the team play a complete game but Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that the team is 1) capable of coming back from a deficit to win and 2) can have a bad day and still earn three points and 3) with six wins from their last seven, are the hottest team in Major League Soccer.
With KC drawing the night before and both New York and D.C. winning earlier Saturday, the pressure was certainly on the Fire to get the three points in order to maintain second place in the east. With KC playing New York as well as D.C. playing Philadelphia at midweek, there’s chance the Fire could momentarily fall from that spot and it seems almost certain things will tighter heading into the weekend.
That all matters very little as long as the Fire continue to hold serve at home and defeat a Columbus team on short rest Saturday night to set up a humongous match at Sporting KC the following Friday.
3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 38.1
Remaining Schedule: vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)
The Rundown: This is also the week in which New York can really make their claim for first in the East. If they can take advantage of their perfect home record vs. the Conference and earn three points on Wednesday vs. KC before doing what’s expected at eighth place New England on the weekend, they’ll find themselves on top.
Taking care of business this week would also be huge as Red Bull will have four matches remaining, three at home and two of those against direct top of the East competitors Chicago and Kansas City in October. It’s also worth nothing that of the top three, Hans Backe’s side has easiest schedules to finish the season as their opponent’s point average equals out to 38.1
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30
Remaining Schedule: at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)
The Rundown: Houston nearly took three points from Kansas City Friday night in a match that many didn’t expect them to take any. While they’ll be disappointed in giving up a late equalizer, the Dynamo by far have the easiest schedule of anyone in the East from here on out, with their five games coming against teams outside of their Conference’s Top five and three games remaining at BBVA Compass Stadium.
It would be a reasonable expectation for the Dynamo to take 12-15 points and really keep themselves in the conversation for a Top 3 spot as the Fire, New York and Kansas City all have matches remaining against each other.
5) DC United
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 32.8
Remaining Schedule: at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)
WATCH: NY 3, CLB 1 (9/15/2012)
The Rundown: No DeRo, no problem. D.C. United found a way to be victorious without their captain in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over New England, effectively leaping over Columbus and into the final playoff spot in the East. Much like Houston, United have a very easy upcoming schedule to make things even tighter in the East as they face the literal bottom four teams in Major League Soccer over their next four games.
The only problem is that three of those four come on the road where United hasn’t been great this season (3-9-0). Nonetheless, if D.C. can take maximum points from the next four, they’ll put themselves not only in a good position to qualify for the playoffs but a chance to finish a bit higher than fifth.
6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 37
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29), vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).
The Rundown: In a previous edition of Playoff Math, I said that I wasn’t yet convinced of the Crew’s run up the table because during their four-game winning streak, they’d played three of the worst teams in the East.
A trip to Gillette Stadium caused a somewhat surprising 2-0 loss before the international break and then Saturday night’s visit to Red Bull Arenas saw a less surprising 3-1 defeat for the Crew. The two losses have Columbus now back on the outside looking in. Though they have two matches over the next seven days just like KC, New York and D.C., it’s safe to say the week ahead could be very telling for the Crew’s playoff chances.
The Crew should expect to defeat Western Conference bottom dwellers Chivas USA at home on Wednesday but their visit to Chicago, will be very difficult as the Fire haven’t fallen to an Eastern Conference team at home since October 12, 2010, going 12-0-5 in that time.
7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Points: 36.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)
The Rundown: Montreal’s really just run out of game but it doesn’t mean they can’t affect the Eastern Conference playoff race (which they still sort of remain in). The Impact’s home form has had me mark this Saturday’s game vs. Sporting KC as one that really have implications on the top of the East while a point at Houston isn’t completely out of the cards either.
After October 6, Montreal could mathematically be out as they face two other teams that are already that way.
I’m not a huge fan of predictions but I got all the East’s playoff related results correct this weekend so, I’ll go with three midweek predictions…
New York 2, Sporting KC 1
Columbus 1, Chivas USA 0
D.C. United 2, Philadelphia 1
Sega 200. No that isn't a new gaming console.
Seeing as Gonzalo Segares has only missed three regular season matches the past two seasons, it seems a good bet that the eight-year Fire veteran will record his 200th competitive appearance for the Men in Red when the side welcomes the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park Saturday night.
The Costa Rican international enters the match having racked up 172 regular season, 12 MLS Cup playoff, 12 U.S. Open Cup and three SuperLiga appearances since his rookie year of 2005.
Not a bad haul for a guy that saw 34 other names called before his in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Sega Plays All Parts in the 2011 Capital Comeback
“I’m very excited,” Segares told Chicago-Fire.com Friday afternoon. “In this day and age it’s definitely not an easy thing to play 200 games with the same team. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
If not for an injury riddled 2009 campaign and his short stint in Europe during the first half of 2010, Segares would have easily hit the mark earlier. It’s still worth noting the veteran really has no equal in terms of consistency at the position over the course of the club’s 15 seasons.
“I’m always thankful for the Fire to have given me the opportunity. Since 2005, it’s been a long road -- I have memories of very good moments and some tougher ones but it’s been a very positive experience.”
Of those moments, Segares pointed to his first game as a professional (a 2-1 win over Colorado on May 21, 2005), his first goal less than a month later (4-3 loss at D.C. United on June 15). A less fond memory is his stoppage time equalizer that was disallowed in that year’s Eastern Conference final at New England.
More recently, Segares counts playing in front of a sold-out Soldier Field against Manchester United last July and his role in providing two assists in the stunning 2-1 stoppage time “Capital Comeback” last season at D.C as happy memories.
Nothing beats the time he hoisted the 2006 U.S. Open Cup in front of the Fire faithful at Toyota Park.
“That was my first championship as a professional. You can’t replicate a memory like that, especially at home.”
The second longest tenured member of the current squad, Segares recently stated on the All-In Podcast that he wouldn’t mind ending his career as a member of the Fire.
“It’s place where I was given my first chance to become a professional. If I get the opportunity I would love to stay here.”
After beating Toronto 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Fire face Canadian opposition again on Saturday, hosting for the first time Montreal at Toyota Park (LIVE 7:30pm CT on CSN Chicago). Winning games that you don't play well in is the sign of a good team and the Fire certainly showed that against TFC.
Montreal is still fighting to sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs but the Fire haven't lost to an Eastern Conference foe at home for over two years. Here are some things to look out for in Saturday night’s game:
WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)
Montreal's formation: back 3 or back 4?
Montreal manager Jesse Marsch has experimented with both a back three and back four this season. When fit, Nelson Rivas, Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari serve as the first choice defenders and you would be hard pressed to find a more experienced trio in all of MLS. The trio has hundreds of Serie A matches under their belt.
In Montreal's last game they played a back four system away against Columbus and I think we will see the same on Saturday night as the Fire's attacking ability and willingness to push the outside defenders up in support of the wingers would cause big problems for a three back setup.
Experienced defenders = lack of pace
Whenever an opposing team is asked about the Fire, the first aspect of the team's game that every coach and player talks about is "pace." Montreal's defenders may have all the experience in the world but with the Fire they come up against a team that has the ability to beat them with speed.
In his last two games, Patrick Nyarko has used his pace to devastating effect, blowing by the Houston defense to score after less than a minute and forcing the Toronto back line into making mistakes by applying pressure high up the field. Nyarko was also very dangerous on the break, especially after Toronto set pieces.
Patrick played very high up the field against TFC on Wednesday, almost as a third striker, and I think that will continue against the Impact.
Felipe - the often overlooked danger man
In attack, Montreal have two excellent wingers in Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp. For the past decade, both players have consistently helped their teams by scoring goals but more importantly netting assists.
WATCH: CHI 2, TOR 1 (9/12/2012)
For the Impact, both play in the wide positions and distract from Felipe who is more central. He can fade in and out of games but he is very capable of providing a killer assist. Philadelphia were so concerned about his attacking threat that they man marked him for the entire match. I don't think the Fire will follow suit, but they cannot solely focus on the wide men and neglect Filipe.
Fire offense: finish your chances
In the game against TFC on Wednesday night, the Men in Red were once again guilty of missing too many excellent goal scoring opportunities. Those misses made the game a lot closer than it should have been, especially after TFC pulled it back to 2-1 in the second half.
Pavel Pardo and Sherjill MacDonald were both guilty of missing after going 1v1 against TFC 'keeper, Milos Kocic. Obviously not every chance will result in a goal but I would expect that coach Frank Klopas was stressing the importance of taking your chances to the players this week.
With the playoff race in the Eastern Conference so tight, a goal or two here and there could be the difference between coming 1st and 3rd in the final standings.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire. Frank Klopas' side take their sixth win in seven matches with goals from MacDonald and Nyarko.
Despite a plethora of chances, the Fire didn’t make things easy on themselves Wednesday night in Toronto. Going up 2-0 with goals from Alvaro Fernandez and Chris Rolfe before halftime, the Fire had plenty of chances but couldn’t put Toronto out of its misery with a third goal.
Eric Hassli’s 79th minute strike and Toronto’s constant pressure late kept things interesting but Frank Klopas’ side found away to lock things down at the back and grind out another important three points on the road.
Ugly as it may have been at times, at the end of the day, Frank Klopas’ side still came away with a valuable away win and catapulted itself into second place in the East. The team now sits even on games played (27) and one point ahead (47) of the New York Red Bulls (46).
Heading into Saturday’s game vs. Montreal, there’s a chance the Fire could sit atop the East by the end of the weekend.
WEEKEND PLAYOFF IMPLICATION SCHEDULE
Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo – 7:30pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 6:00pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
D.C. United vs. New England – 6:30pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact – 7:30pm CT (CSN Chicago)
Let’s put things in perspective…
WATCH: Sporting KC 0, Houston 0 (7/7/2012)
One of two huge matches in the East this weekend is Friday’s nights encounter between first-place Sporting KC and fourth-place Houston at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
If Kansas City, who are just a surprising 4-3-3 at home vs. East teams loses, it sets the Fire up for a move to first on Saturday night. If that happened, the Dynamo could also potentially jump all the way into second place (at least momentarily) as well.
Lucky for the home side, Houston’s away form against the Conference has been quite poor (1-5-4), though one of those four draws did come at Sporting on July 7 (0-0).
The obvious hope for the Fire is to see the Dynamo earn their second away win against the East Friday night but I think anything more than a point for Houston is unrealistic.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, Houston Dynamo 1
- Further East on Saturday, third-place New York welcomes the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena. I wrote recently that I wasn’t yet convinced about the Crew’s surge up the East table because of the level of opponents they’d played during their run and in their last match, they fell 2-0 at New England.
In Saturday’s game, they travel to play a New York side that is unbeaten at home this season (9-0-3) and hasn’t even drawn against an East opponent at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0). Interestingly enough, at 4-6-4, Columbus has a much better away record than Houston and has gone 3-5-2 away in the conference, including a victory over Sporting KC.
Even with all that, it’s hard to go against New York’s home dominance this season. As it relates to the Fire, a draw would be a fantastic result for a few reasons but I have to think Red Bull comes away victorious this weekend.
PREDICTION: New York Red Bulls 2, Columbus Crew 1
WATCH: New York 4, Columbus 1 (4/7/2012)
- Sixth place D.C. United hosts New England Saturday night at RFK Stadium in a match where all three points will be quite necessary for the home side.
Most of MLS was in shock Thursday morning with the club’s announcement that captain Dwayne DeRosario had suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out 10-12 weeks, effectively ending his season.
Even still, United (41) sit one point back of the final playoff spot, even without DeRo are better than New England and much like Red Bull, have fantastic form at RFK this season, going 9-1-4 overall and 7-1-3 against Eastern opponents.
While New England bounced back with a home win against Columbus before the international break, their away record is abysmal (1-10-2; 0-7-2 in the East) and I suspect their skid down the East table continues Saturday night.
PREDICTION: D.C. United 2, New England Revolution 0
- In the last Eastern match of the night, the Fire will know exactly what they have to do to move into first place or retain second place by halftime against Montreal.
If all the predicted results above hold and the Fire win oer the Impact, they'd stay in second place but sit just one point back of East-leading KC.
The Fire’s home form this season (9-2-2; 7-0-1 vs. East) combined with Montreal’s away record (2-11-1; 2-6-1 vs. East) certainly favor the Men in Red in this match, though Klopas’ side will be coming off just three days rest while the Impact will not have played in two weeks.
Also remember that while the first-year MLS side is just three points out of the final playoff spot, they only have five games remaining while almost everyone above has seven.
A loss for Montreal on Saturday would come as close as could be to effectively end the Impact’s bid for a playoff place in their first MLS season.
PREDICTION: Saturday night will certainly be a battle but I think the Fire take their 10th home win of the season and move within one point of first in the East with a 2-1 victory (what other score line is there?) over Montreal.
Eight days ago I wrote a blog on the policy regarding the use of flag poles by away supporters at Sporting KC's LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
In the piece, I appealed for Fire and all MLS supporters to tweet Sporting CEO @RobbHeineman and the club's Twitter account (@SportingKC) asking why the club wouldn't allow this right to away supporters. You may have once or twice seen the #FearTheFlag hashtag...
There are many words to describe that blog and Twitter campaign: agitating, pestering, annoying would all be appropriate. Admittedly, it was a little jab at Robb and our friends down in Kansas City but seemed a worthy point to raise considering LiveSTRONG was one of only two MLS venues that had this restriction in place.
While I wasn't sure that the policy would ever change, Robb proved be wrong last night by tweeting this...
A call to Sporting's public relations folks today confirmed that the policy has indeed changed and away supporters will be allowed to fly flags inside LiveSTRONG Sporting Park going forward. Recognizing this fact, I think it appropriate to give credit where it's due.
First, Robb points to the collaboration with the KC Cauldron as the reason the policy has changed. The fact that the club's own supporters pushed for rights of visiting supporters in their own stadium is really a great thing. Well done, bravo.
Secondly, I have to give kudos to Robb and the club as a whole. To make a change in stadium policy like this during the season isn't as simple as snapping two fingers. The fact that Robb and the club considered the arguments (whatever they were by the Cauldron) and perhaps the tweets from supporters outside of KC and decided to listen to popular opinion is a breath of fresh air.
Robb, I look forward to visiting LiveSTRONG for the second time this season at the end of the month and would be happy to do a "flag pole photo op" with you on the 28th. I'm sure our PR departments can talk.
Third, thanks to all those fans, both Fire and otherwise, that supported the cause through Twitter and other means.
Now on that note, we just have to convince @PhilaUnion to do the same...
Fly flags with Jeff and Section 8 Chicago in LiveSTRONG Sporting Park on September 28. Get on the bus to Kansas City by putting your deposit down here.
It didn't seem a likely result but the Fire and a few other teams in the East got playoff help as the low-lying New England Revolution knocked off the high-flying Columbus Crew 2-0 Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium.
Riding a four-match winning streak, popular wisdom had the Crew continuing their run, but in this match, they looked nothing like the Columbus team we've come to know over the past month. The visitors rarely threatened the New England goal and the home side which has seemed down and out for a while, rattled off a rather dominant performance.
The Revs took a 1-0 lead through Dimitry Imbongo's "clean up" effort in the 53rd minute and looked to have a second goal seven minutes later, but Stephen McCarthy's header was negated by an offside call. With the Crew only down 1-0, the most curious case moment of the night came when Columbus defender Chad Marshall (pictured above) headed a ball over 'keeper Andy Greunebaum and into his own net to give the Revs a 2-0 lead. The goal was puzzling as Marshall seemed to give up on the ball when it looked as though he could have saved off the line.
Unfortunately for Robert Warzycha's side, their best efforts didn't come until the 87th minute when a two-shot sequence was thwarted by by Revs 'keeper Matt Reis, to complete the New England victory.
The result means the Crew have missed out on what would have been regarded an easy three points and an opportunity to move all the way to third in the Eastern Conference standings. Long story short, everything in the East playoff race stayed the same Wednesday night but Thursday night, the Houston Dynamo will make their bid for a return to third in the East as they host Real Salt Lake at BBVA Compass Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: Revolution 2, Crew 0
It’s been a few weeks since my last blog on this subject and while not much has become easier to predict, at least one thing has become clearer.
Last time, there was a question about Columbus’ ability to make a run towards the playoffs. With that blog written just two days before the Crew began their current four-game winning streak, the question has been answered and their form currently has D.C. United as the current Eastern Conference outsiders. Still, I'm not yet convinced of the Crew's playoff credentials and I break down everyone's playoff hopes below...
WATCH: SKC 2, TFC 1 (9/1/2012)
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 71
Average Opponents Points: 40.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Houston (9/14), at New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: It goes without saying that Sporting KC controls its own destiny for the top spot in the East but two games away to second place New York (the Red Bulls are 9-0-3 at home) combined with a home date against the Fire (who’ve beaten Sporting both games this season) and trips to Montreal (10-3-2 at home) and Columbus (8-3-2 at home) will make finishing top of the East difficult for KC.
Lucky for Peter Vermes’ team, they’ve been the best MLS side on the road this season, going 7-4-2 away from LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. They’re definitely going to be in the playoffs but even with a four point advantage at the top of the East, they could finish as low as third.
2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 7 (5 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 36.8
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)
The Rundown: If they keep their home form, New York is my favorite to finish top of the East. They’re not only undefeated at home this season (9-0-3) but haven’t even drawn with an Eastern Conference foe at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0 this year). Consider that their two remaining away matches are at New England and Philadelphia, you could make a strong case that New York might not lose another game this season.
Of course playoff implications often turn things on paper upside down and New York does face their two closest competitors in three of their remaining home matches. Basically I’m saying, first in the East is really New York’s for the taking if they want it.
WATCH: CHI 3, HOU 1 (9/2/2012)
3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 36.2
Remaining Schedule: at Toronto FC (9/12), vs. Montreal (9/15), vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)
The Rundown: As evidenced by the fact that the team jumped from sixth to third with one win Sunday night, the difference from third to six in the East is just three points and the victory over Houston gave the Fire the best odds of teams three through six to make a bid for a top two finish.
Like New York, Frank Klopas’ side has been rather spectacular at home this season, going 9-2-2 overall and 7-0-1 against Eastern Conference opponents. With that current form, it’s a decent expectation that the Fire should at least take points from all of their remaining four games at Toyota Park.
If the team takes four wins from their final eight, they’re definitely in the playoffs. The rub here comes when you consider the remaining road games, which have the Fire visiting Eastern Conference cellar dwellers Toronto and New England.
Save the road games in Kansas City and New York, higher expectations will have the Fire winning six of their remaining eight matches. If they do that, they’ll be in serious contention for a top two spot in the East but that will rest on how the team does in those two six-pointers.
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Points: 34
Remaining Schedule: vs. Real Salt Lake (9/6), at Sporting KC (9/14), at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)
The Rundown: Of the seven teams still in the playoff picture, Houston definitely has one of the easiest schedules. If they can take points from their next two games vs. RSL and at Sporting, all five of their remaining matches are winnable.
The biggest question mark for Houston is how they balance their remaining two CONCACAF Champions League group games (9/20 vs. CD FAS, 10/23 vs. Olimpia) while staying in the playoff race. Dominic Kinnear has done a pretty good job of getting result when his team is coming off a competitive game played four days or less before, going 4-3-6 this season.
The fact that the team got four points from their two visits to Central America earlier this month should give them a little ease but having a crowded fixture list across two different competitions will be difficult. The Dynamo’s saving grace will be their unbeaten home form at BBVA Compass Stadium where they’ve gone 8-0-5 since opening in May.
Like the Fire, four wins from their final seven should do the trick but picking up a point or two extra will get them in for sure.
WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)
5) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Points: 35.1
Remaining Schedule: at New England (9/5), at New York (9/15), vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29), vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).
The Rundown: Riding a six match unbeaten streak of which the last four have all been victories, Columbus is certainly the hottest team in MLS and have pushed their way from potential spoiler right into the thick of the Eastern Conference race.
While the four straight wins are nice, consider that all four were against the bottom four in the East and three were at home. Furthermore the victories against New England and Montreal on the weekend came with stoppage time goals. I’m not saying they’re not a legitimate contender and summer acquisitions Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta are reason for concern for any of the Crew’s upcoming opponents but I do think remaining games at New York, Chicago and vs. Sporting KC could prove a blow to their chances.
Basically, if the Crew beat someone above them, everyone in the East has more cause for concern.
6) D.C. United
Current Points: 41
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. New England (9/15), at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)
The Rundown: D.C. are the team that find themselves currently just outside the playoff bubble by one point but of the seven teams still in the race, have the easiest schedule with their opponents average point total sitting at 30. Their next five matches all come against sides that are pretty well out of their respective playoff races but one thing to note is that D.C. hasn’t traveled well to the west coast this season, going 0-3-1, making their September 29 trip to Portland an interesting one.
If D.C. does the business in those five matches, they should be in a good spot to play for positioning in their final two games against Columbus and the Fire to close out the season.
7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Points: 36.4
Remaining Schedule: at Chicago (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)
The Rundown: Simply put, Montreal are still in the race but with only five matches remaining, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be in the top five come season’s end. That doesn’t mean the first-year MLS side can’t muck things up for other playoff contenders.
The team’s road form this season (2-12-1) is likely what will keep Jesse Marsch’s side out of the postseason but their play at Stade Olimpique and Stade Saputo (10-3-2) is what has them in this position. All teams contending for a playoff spot should put a lot of emphasis on the team’s home match vs. Sporting KC on September 22 – I’ve got it marked as one of my top games where teams can make up points on the current Conference leaders.
Even considering Montreal has only taken points in three road matches this season, they’ll still look to finish their first MLS campaign strong and so the Fire and Dynamo would be wise to take them seriously as they make their own playoff push.
Stopping Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia is one key to three points Sunday vs. Houston
Having had over ten days to ponder the loss to DC, the Fire take to the field Sunday night at Toyota Park against the Houston Dynamo. (NBC 5.2/Galavision 6:00pm CT) Houston have had their own slips of late but will be looking to take away some points in a massive Eastern Conference match up. Here are a few things to look out for tactically.
Right back starter: Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan?
In the past few games, Jalil Anibaba has started over Dan Gargan at right back. Though not playing in his natural position, Jalil has used his athleticism and speed to make the transition to the outside. After a tough game against DC, some fans were calling for the return of Gargan but, against Houston, Anibaba’s aerial abilities will be needed.
Everyone knows that Dominic Kinnear’s team makes its living on scoring from set pieces. The Dynamo are a big side and Anibaba's height will be needed to deal with the likes of Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji
WATCH: Fire vs. Dynamo Preview
Double team in the left: Neutralize Kandji
In Houston's last two league matches, Kandji had two completely different performances. Against Toronto, especially in the first half, he was excellent, running at the defenders, latching on to long balls over the top and also bringing the ball inside to link up with his strike partners and advancing play makers.
The week before against Columbus, Kandji was effectively shut out of the game by being double teamed. Columbus also didn't allow him any room to operate out wide which made him a non-factor in the game. If the Fire continue their favored formation, either Patrick Nyarko or Alvaro Fernandez will need to drop to support Anibaba and prevent Kandji from getting in 1v1 situations.
Stop Davis and Garcia: plugging the middle
Against DC last week, Chris Rolfe was unable to operate because United packed the midfield. I can see the Fire deploying the same technique against Houston and their two deep lying play makers: Brad Davis (if healthy) and Boniek Garcia. Both are given license to roam, and do so eagerly knowing that recently returned midfielder Ricardo Clark is staying behind to protect the back four.
The movement and passing ability of Davis and Garcia is Houston's biggest threat and if the Fire can stop both players from creating, it will cut off the supply line to the attacking three. The outside midfielders, especially Fernandez who has experience playing in the middle, will need to tuck in as much as possible to help out Pavel Pardo and Daniel Paladini.
This, of course, leaves a lot of space out wide for the outside backs to move into but it is a worthwhile risk if it prevents Davis and Garcia from linking with the attacking three.
Biggest strength and biggest weakness: midfield
For all the talk of Houston's attacking talents from midfield, the weakness of the 4-3-3 system is that it only contains one defensive midfielder. Ricardo Clark may be one of the best holding midfielders in the league but he can easily be exploited if the Fire can transition quickly from defensive to attack.
Columbus did this to perfection against the Dynamo in their recent 2-2 draw. Houston's center backs like to come forward to help Clark out in an attempt to cut off balls into the target forward (in the Fire’s case, Sherjill MacDonald) and this creates gaps that someone like Chris Rolfe can move into.
In this formation, Rolfe should have more room to create and we all saw how effective that was against New England. Because Houston is playing away from home, they won't be as inclined to attack as the would be at home but on the occasions that they do get men forward, the Fire must be ready to pounce.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 1, Houston Dynamo 1 with Sherjill MacDonald bagging his second goal for the Fire.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
I’ll be honest, the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup became sort of an afterthought following the Fire’s disappointing overtime exit to the Michigan Bucks back in May.
I believe FDR biographer Hugh Gallagher said it best when speaking about the former President’s attitude towards his paralysis, “Denial is a useful thing in its place.” With the team knocked out, it just became easier to take this route.
Of course as the summer went on and the tournament reached its final rounds, we were all faced with the scary prospect of seeing Seattle Sounders FC equal our club’s MLS-record four Open Cup titles. Come mid-July, the only thing that stood in their way was Sporting KC, who to some great resentment in Cascadia, outbid the three-time defending champions to host the final at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
With the news that his second-year stadium would host the final, Sporting CEO and serial tweeter Robb Heineman was understandably excited and encouraged the traveling support from Seattle to join in what would be a vibrant night at his newish stadium.
It is well known in MLS supporter’s circles that LiveSTRONG isn’t exactly as open in accommodating away fans in the same way that most other MLS stadia are (mainly with the use of flag poles). With that in mind, Sporting KC supporter @KarahM318 followed up on his tweet and Heineman even went a step further.
Flag poles for the final! Why not?
Certainly Heineman had already recognized the stature of the occasion when the bid money cleared his checking account but it was a great move on the club’s part to allow Sounders FC fans to support their team in a way they're used to in the Final.
Despite severe weather that delayed the start of the match, the audible and visual atmosphere created by both sides was fantastic. While we’re no fan of rave green in these parts, the contrasting flags (on poles) looked great.
(Photo Courtesy of Aaron Riner)
Of course in the end, Sporting thwarted Seattle’s bid to tie the Fire’s Open Cup record and for that, we’re all thankful.
Perhaps enthused by KC’s willingness to allow Seattle fans help create more atmosphere at the match, Section 8 Chicago Chairman Joel Biden tweeted to Heineman asking if the same courtesy would be afforded Fire supporters upon their visit there in September…
And this leads to the crux of the problem.
I have the utmost respect for Robb Heineman and what his group has accomplished in KC but if memory serves, it was he that was the biggest champion of his club’s new-found rivalry with the Fire last year. Seeing rivalries as organic things that come through supporters and a history of on-the-field battles, the Fire front office didn’t go along with the “plan”.
Given Heineman’s tweet, I’m left to wonder if he and Sporting have left the “rivalry” behind and if that’s the case, then why?
Does it have to do with the Fire’s domination since it “started”? (The Men in Red are 3-0-1 against Sporting KC since it “began” last year).
If not, I have to ask why the season series finale against your biggest rival, one that has certain MLS Cup playoff implications isn’t deemed, “special”? Certainly allowing the traveling support from Chicago to wave flags in your stadium will make your place that much better for the national television audience tuning in on NBC Sports Network…
When Sporting KC brought 400 people to watch the Men in Red take one of their aforementioned “rivalry” victories this past May, the Fire allowed those from the KC Cauldron to wave flags in support of their team throughout the 2-1 loss. It’s a practice that’s long been in place at Toyota Park, even going back to those days that Sporting were known as the Wizards (see photo below).
Maybe it's supporter-style gamesmanship, or perhaps PVC piping is just more dangerous in Kansas but the vast majority of MLS stadia allow this type of support from both sides of fans.
MLS has a league-wide list of in-stadium Supporters Exemptions that allow for the use of drums, horns and other musical instruments, banners and signs that meet what can be described as a “good taste” criteria and most importantly to this blog, flags on poles.
The caveat is that all use of the above items are “permitted at locations and times determined by the club or venue management.”
LiveSTRONG Sporting Park security has already proven capable of dealing with the waving flags in the stands, so really what is the issue?
Should MLS stadia that currently allow this type of support take a “quid pro quo” approach with fans whose home venues do not? Should there be a true, across the board set of standards for visiting supporters throughout the league’s 19 home venues?
In either case, I challenge Fire supporters to agitate for this right at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park when the team looks to sweep the season series there on Friday, September 28.
If you agree with this article, tweet it or even just your thoughts on the subject to @SportingKC and most importantly their CEO @RobbHeineman using hashtag #FearTheFlag. Or use the tweet button to the right and it'll do it all for you!
Flag poles or not, a contingent from Section 8 Chicago and Sector Latino will be heading to support the Fire at next month's all-important match at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. Secure your bus and match ticket by clicking here.
Lets be honest, with the Men in Red losing 4-2 at DC on Wednesday and being the only MLS team with this weekend off, you had a little bit of concern regarding where the team would be sitting come Monday morning.
Luckily for the Fire, teams from north of the border made this idle weekend a reasonably good one (if not tighter) heading into next Sunday's all-important home clash vs. Houston.
A quick wrap up of weekend results that have to do with the Eastern Conference playoff race...
Montreal Impact 3, DC United 0
Highlights: Montreal 3, D.C. United 0
Riding off their 4-2 defeat of the Fire at midweek, DC United visited the Montreal Impact in a Saturday afternoon matinee. Despite their result on Wednesday, the game marked United's third in six days (forcing Ben Olsen to bring starters Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Branco Boskovic off the bench) and came against an Impact side that has taken 10 of its 12 victories at home this season.
Longtime Canadian international Patrice Bernier stole the show on the day, setting up Marco Di Vaio's 24th minute goal before talllying a 50th minute penalty and icing the match with his second goal deep into second half stoppage time.
United rarely threatened and saw their best chance come in the 78th minute when Troy Perkins thwarted Marcelo Saragosa from close range.
With the victory, Montreal (12-13-3; 39pts.) moves within one point of DC (12;9-4; 40pts.) for the final playoff spot in the East but time isn't on their side. With 28 games played, Jesse Marsch's team has taken the field more than any other MLS team this season and will likely need 12-15 points from their remaining matches, plus get a little help along the way to become just the third expansion team in league history to qualify for the playoffs in their inaugural year.
Good omen for Jesse, he was part of the first one that did it...
UP NEXT: More games with playoff implications as DC continues its torrid stretch, playing their fourth game in 10 days when they host New York on Wednesday, August 29 (7pm CT; Galavision) while Montreal visits upstart Columbus next Saturday, September 1 (6:30pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick)
Columbus Crew 4, New England Revolution 3
HIGHLIGHTS: Columbus 4, New England 3
This is the one that didn't go our way, though from the early-going, things looked good when some sloppy defending from the Crew saw Ryan Guy and Jerry Bengtson put the Revs up 2-0 inside 23 minutes.
Showing the inconsistent nature of New England this season, the Crew took the lead though even before halftime as two stunning free kicks from Columbus DP Federico Higuain sandwiched around a Jairo Arrieta finish to take the home side into the half up 3-2. Yes Fire fans, Higuain is the real deal and Crew head coach Robert Warzycha knows it.
New England stabilized at the break and would pull things level in the 81st minute when Lee Ngyuen sent substitute goalkeeper Matt Lampson the wrong way on a penalty kick. The Crew would have the last laugh minutes later as Arrieta ran onto Tony Tchani's through ball into the box and poked his second goal of the night past Matt Reis, ending a wild night of scoring at Crew Stadium.
Though there was little doubt New England's (6-14-5; 23pts.) season was over, this one hammered the coffin shut while the victory extended Columbus' (10-8-6; 36pts.) unbeaten run to four matches and kept the Crew within three points of sixth place Montreal and four behind DC for the final playoff spot in the East.
UP NEXT: Both teams are back in action Wednesday when the Crew will hope to win their third straight as they visit Philadelphia (7pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick) while New England will hope to snap their eight-match winless run when they welcome Chivas USA to Gillette Stadium (7pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick).
Houston Dynamo 1, Toronto FC1
With Toronto well at the bottom of the East, any points they can take from higher teams helps a lot. This game marked midfielder Ricardo Clark's first appearance since returning to the Dynamo from stints in Germany and Norway and also provided a good view into the current form of the Fire's next two league opponents.
Houston would take the lead in the 21st minute when forward Will Bruin ran on to Boniek Garcia's ball out of midfield before chipping onrushing TFC 'keeper Freddy Hall. The Dynamo threatened for the second goal throughout and would end the game witha 14-8 shots advantage but surrendered the equalizer and two points in the 84st minute when sloppy marking at the back saw Terry Dunfield head home Darren O'Dea's cross from the right.
With the result, Houston (11-6-9; 42pts.) remains in third place, just one point ahead of the Fire, with the good guys holding one game in hand. To say next Sunday's match against the orange-clad team at Toyota Park is a pivotal one would be an understatement. The result keeps Toronto FC (5-15-6; 21pts.) in the Eastern Conference cellar but also shows a team that can't be taken lightly heading into the home stretch.
UP NEXT: Houston takes a break from MLS action as they travel back to Central America for the second time in a week to face Honduran side Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League group play on Thursday, August 30 (Fox Soccer; 9pm CT) before heading to Chicago for next Sunday's game (6pm CT; NBC Nonstop, Galavision). Toronto FC will hope to do better in CONCACAF play when they host Santos Laguna in the Champions League on Tuesday, August, 28 (7pm CT; Fox Soccer) before continuing its spoiler bid in a visit to Sporting KC on Saturday, September 1 (7:30pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick).
A quick view at the Eastern Conference Standings after last night...
ON TAP TODAY...
First place in the Eastern Conference (Sporting KC) hosts the second place New York in their first of three meetings over the next two months, live tonight at 8pm CT on ESPN2.
Fire fans holding out hope for the top seed in the East would do well to hope for a draw in the game ...