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06 June 7:15 am

After picking up a second draw in four days, the Fire head back from Denver with their heads held high after collecting a good road point. The last match before the World Cup break will offer a considerable challenge as league-leading Seattle Sounders, a team in good spirits after a 4-0 drubbing of RSL last weekend, come to Toyota Park Saturday night (LIVE on My50 at 7:30pm CT). Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective…

Limiting the involvement of Chad Barrett – stopping the supply to the former Fire striker

In the absence of Clint Dempsey, former Fire striker Chad Barrett has stepped up and performed extremely well for the Sounders. Despite his size and the fact the club have Kenny Cooper in their ranks, coach Sigi Schmid has deployed Barrett as a target striker in recent matches to great effect.

Barrett seems to have modeled his new found role after San Jose Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart, often using his head or chest to cushion the ball in the direction of his fellow attackers such as Obi Martins and Lamar Nagle. Barrett has also chipped in with two goals in his last two matches for the Sounders.

Barrett is deceptively good in the air too, and with players like Brad Evans and Marco Pappa putting in crosses, the Fire need to be aware of where Barrett is on the field at all times. Against RSL last week, Barrett often found space by peeling off and making runs to the back post undetected. He was almost found a number of occasions and but for some better crosses/through balls, he might have a lot more than one goal.

Similar to players like Marco Pappa and Justin Mapp, the Fire fan base is openly divided about Barrett’s contributions as a Fire player. One thing’s for sure, he would like nothing more than contributing to the Fire’s downfall on Saturday night.

Limiting the Sounders set piece opportunities – not allowing Pineda and Pappa to put in dangerous deliveries

Though the Fire have improved greatly at defending set pieces, the Sounders will give them a stern test on Saturday evening.

With the twin threats of Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa, Seattle posses two of the best dead ball takers in MLS. The Fire will also need to deal with players like Brad Evans, Zack Scott and Chad Marshall, defenders who are very good in the air.

On set pieces, the Sounders usually have two routines. The first is to whip the ball into the box and look for someone like Marshall or Barrett to get a head on it. The second is to float the ball into the box and look to attack the second ball after a Sounders player heads it back across the box in the direction of where the free kick came from.

The Fire gave up 13 fouls in Colorado and were very aggressive against Robbie Keane last Saturday at Toyota Park. The Men in Red have made a number of mental mistakes on set pieces this season so limiting the number of fouls in the Fire’s defensive third will be critical on Saturday night.  

Targeting Seattle’s central defensive pairing – keeping the ball on the ground and using our attacking pace

With what the Sounders central defenders have in experience and aerial ability, they certainly lack in pace – something the Fire should be looking to target on Saturday night.

Marshall, Scott and Djimi Traore are all very accomplished defenders but aren’t always comfortable in 1v1 situations, especially against an attacker with pace. With this in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank Yallop goes with a lot of pace and trickery when choosing his attacking players for this match.

An attacking midfield trio of Benji Joya, Harry Shipp and Grant Ward with Quincy Amarikwa playing ahead of them would be very difficult for the Seattle defense. All four players are very good in 1v1 situations and Ward and Amarikwa aren’t afraid to take players on.

On Saturday night, the Fire should be focusing on attacking Seattle centrally and if the players mentioned can pick up the ball in the space between Osvaldo Alonso and the Sounders central defenders, it could result in the breakthrough.

Prediction: The Fire head into the World Cup break with another point – 1-1 with a goal from Benji Joya.

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

WATCH: MLSsoccer.com's Scouting Report: Fire vs. Sounders

28 May 12:46 pm

This week, after a frustrating match in Columbus, it was revealed that the Fire are so decimated by injuries the assistant coaches had to fill in a practice scrimmage last week to make up numbers. Granted, even past their playing shape, the coaches C.J. Brown, Clint Mathis, and Brian McBride would win most 3v3 tourneys in this city today, but it shows just how handcuffed Frank Yallop’s roster can get when the injury bug hits.

Yallop said he won’t use injuries as an excuse, which is great, that’s what every coach says, but I don’t like it. I think that injury is a great excuse. It’s not an excuse for playing poorly, because every excuse for playing poorly sucks. Rather, injuries can be excuses for other things. For roster shake ups, for weird substitutions, for tactical changes, for second chances, and so on.

QUESTION: Would Rookie of the Year candidate Harry Shipp have gotten this much tick to prove himself if Alex and Dilly Duka weren’t hurt to start the season?  

Injuries are totally natural and can be a blessing when they force a team to break from what's comfortable, but basically they’re unpredictable and infuriating. I mean, every team and player has them, but no team or player has them exactly the same. So it’s the way teams, coaches and players deal with their inevitability that makes injuries what they are as well as an interesting excuse.

Once they hit, do you go to the market to find replacements or call on young players? Do you stack the squad with depth at the beginning of the season, or hope to ride out the injuries when they come? What about the players with previous injury issues - do you monitor their minutes? Alter their training regimen?

So far, I’ve found Yallop’s approach to injuries fascinating and impressive. The work he did to improve the squad this year is a real strength. Remember that after the frustrating results vs. Philadelphia last season, we were talking about the Patrick Nyarko/Chris Rolfe striking partnership.

This Fire team’s depth should be able to deal with an injury bug and the kinds of personnel changes a full season requires. That’s why it was nice to see Dilly Duka get a run out on Saturday, even if he’s short of match fitness, and Grant Ward get a chance to show why his name caused so much excitement during preseason.

All year, Yallop has rewarded players for playing well, simple as that. So you know that any injury also means an opportunity for someone else. When preseason starters like Gonzalo Segares and Alex were hit by injuries, they were replaced by rookies Greg Cochrane and Shipp, who’ve proved themselves to varying degrees.

On Saturday the Fire were without Alex, Bakary Soumare, Patrick Nyarko, Mike Magee, and Lovel Palmer, for reasons as diverse as calf soreness to kidney stones. Good luck preparing for those scenarios in preseason video sessions.

The other interesting thing about injuries is that they’re a totally natural thing. Their existence is the proof that what we watch and turn over as pastime is actually an excruciating tug of war between physical performance and physical possibility. Somewhere in between there is the place where muscles and ligaments break down, where a body suffers. Injury bugs are a reminder that we’re watching athletes push themselves to their limits.

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

15 April 7:05 am

It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.

In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.

After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”

It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.

You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.

The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.

And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”

That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.

Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.

This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.

It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.

What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own. 

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

18 November 10:53 am

 

We're not far off from finding out the finalists for the 2013 MLS Most Valuable Player award and the case has more than been made for Mike Magee to take that honor.

Still, MLSsoccer.com's John Bolster recommends the Fire forward for another "not yet awarded" award, that being the league's Most Improved Player.

He makes his case for Magee here...

03 November 7:45 am

There's a decent chance if you were coming to Toyota Park from the south, west or even sometimes the north prior to 2011, you played a game called 71st Street Train Roulette.

You know what I'm talking about. 71st Street would provide great access to Toyota Park if only one of those long freight trains wasn't crawling through at the time. If you got past the train tracks, it was a cool final breeze to the stadium.

If you got stopped by the train (especially close to kickoff) it was gut wrenching to have to sit and watch as it slowly passed by or even stop on the tracks as the game began in earnest inside Toyota Park.

At the end of 2011 access to the stadium from north-bound 71st Street was shutdown in order to build an underpass that would eliminate the need for 71st Street Train Roulette. Of course this didn’t make things easier for those coming from any of the above mentioned directions as you simply couldn’t gain access to the stadium. 

It was a two-year headache that made entering and exiting from Toyota Park difficult.

All for the greater good though as the project was completed this past week and a ceremony held Saturday morning featuring Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to open the 71st Street Bridge.

It’s been a long wait and we’re glad it’s over…

 

23 October 7:47 am

Orlando took one step closer to becoming an MLS club Tuesday night as the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to approve funds for a new multi-purpose, soccer stadium in the town known for mouse ears and making dreams come true.

The club will now enter final negotiations with Major League Soccer to become the league's 21st franchise, with hopes for an official announcement in the next few months.

If it happens that soon, much speculation indicates that Phil Rawlins and Orlando City could enter MLS as early as 2015 along with confirmed expansion New York City FC.

Owned by Stoke City chairman Phil Rawlins, the club has been the cream of the crop in USL-Pro since the franchise to central Florida from Austin in late 2010.

Orlando City won its second USL-Pro championship earlier this year (the first came in 2011) and has also twice won the Commissioner's Cup (USL's form of the Supporter's Shield) in 2011 and 2012.

Of course Chicago Fire fans will remember the Lions best for the two sides meeting in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in June at Toyota Park. An overall media swell surrounded Orlando City's Cinderella run to the final eight, only to see the Fire come out 5-1 winners in the match.

Highlights: 

What do you think of Orlando's potential entry into MLS? Tell us below...

21 October 11:22 am

There were shots off the post, a disallowed goal, more Sean Johnson saves, the dramatic contexts of playoff contention and the last regular season home game of the season - Saturday’s win had a handful of talking points, but it had really only one truly interesting scene: Mike Magee’s game winning penalty.

Because despite the atmosphere and everything that was at stake, the game, in fact was pretty flat. Maybe it was the rain-soaked field, maybe it was a bit of nerves but Fire fans had to be uncomfortable when they saw the first 10 minutes with little of the urgency, high pressure, and high defensive line that pushed the team to those two huge away wins in D.C. and Dallas. Toronto was finding gaps all over the field to exploit and if it wasn’t for such bad finishing by Robert Earnshaw, they would’ve been in front.

The Fire grew into the game, however, and were in control when Magee scored the winning penalty. Then, as we’ve seen for the past month or so, the Fire managed the remainder of the and took all the points.

So maybe it’s good that it wasn’t a spectacle of high drama. Maybe it was just a professional victory -- a cold blooded three point snatch.

But then there was Magee’s PK.

Just a few weeks ago, Magee hit the crossbar with what would’ve been a game winning PK against Montreal. It cost the Fire two crucial points. “Tonight's on me,” he said after the game. “It won't be the last one I miss but I'm confident taking them and I'll bury the next one.”

It’s more or less the approach you expect from someone leading the league in goals and there aren’t many better opportunities to pad your stats than from the penalty spot.

And yet, and YET, Saturday’s PK was terrifying. I didn’t like the way Magee looked, I didn’t like his set up. He kept wiping his hands, and he started his run-up exactly at the whistle. You can often tell if a player’s going to score their PK based on their face, their calm, their approach, and their cool. We all know Magee is cool in front of goal, but wouldn’t the Montreal miss be on his mind? There he was, right in front of Section 8, back in his home city, a stadium chanting MVP - it was a moment, just a second or two, where some people might have thought about the whole chaos of the season. All the missed chances, all the posts they hit, all the points they dropped, all the mistakes and antagonism and pressure.

It happened so fast. Magee didn’t let the moment fester. He knew what he was going to do. He knows where the goal is. He wipes his hands, he tugs his shorts down a bit, he looks at the ref waiting for the whistle. When it comes he leaps off the line like a 5k start, skips a bit to the left of the ball, and approaching it that way, executes the deftest of chips right into where the goalie’s chest would’ve been if he hadn’t dove down to his right, where he thought Magee would go.

What I love about the way he took it is that he seemed to beat the rhythm of the game. I wanted a dramatic pause. I wanted to consider the entire season in the moment, and I wanted him to look straight at the keeper with fire in his eyes, like Rivaldo in 2002. But then, that’s what makes him such a good finisher, isn’t it? It’s the way he seems to catch defenders and goalies unaware. For some goals he’s quicker than you think he can be, and for others he seems to wait an eternity before calmly putting it away. The PK on Saturday was a combination of both. It had the quickness to take a few people by surprise (and short circuit any nerves), and the calmness to chip a Pirlo-esque panenka in front of thousands of people, in the most important game of the season.

After the game, Magee admitted he had some nervousness: “Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle.”

Even when admitting nerves, he sounds like the doubt in his mind didn’t really make him fear not scoring, it just pushed him to score differently.

And so now the Fire go to New York with nerves and doubts, but like Magee, they’ll have to use those doubts to push forward. They’ve learned from their mistakes against Montreal (and Columbus, and etc. etc.) but for three games in a row they’ve managed games and have a chance to finish the season the way Magee finished his PK: maybe a little afraid of the posts, maybe not exactly with the suave calmness of a secure playoff spot, but with a chance to kill it off, take the points, and head into the playoffs.

15 October 11:06 am

The Fire won back-to-back away games and scored six goals. They sit in a playoff position and control their own fate with two games remaining. Juan Luis Anangono is heating up. Mike Magee is so hot he’s scoring goals by accident. Sean Johnson is playing like, and being recognized as, one of the four or five best American goalies. Jeff Larentowicz is owning midfields. Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry are two of only three MLS players who’ve played every single minute so far this season and their defensive relationship is finally solidifying. There’s real depth on the outside and through the middle (where captain Logan Pause and summer standout Daniel Paladini are working to get past Alex and Arevalo Rios).

That’s the general view right now. The squad is playing up to their potential and the depth is supporting them. The competition for spots is pushing everyone harder, and the depth is allowing Frank Klopas to cover for injuries, international duty (Rios, Lindpere), or to go with the hotter player (Anangono over Chris Rolfe).

In other words, things are shaping up nicely. The general feeling is a good one, momentum is building, the Twitter trolls have returned to their caves, and it’s hard to fend off enticing thoughts like, you know those lower-seeded teams that barrel into the playoffs and scare everyone because they’re playing with momentum and confidence? What if the Fire can be that team?

All season long, the Fire’s major problem was consistency. They were infuriatingly inconsistent from game to game and, indeed, from half to half. Maybe it was a focus thing, maybe it was a changing personnel thing, who knows. But now the Fire are managing games better. They’re attacking straight from the beginning. They’re pressuring the ball all over the field. They’re getting crucial two-goal advantages and defending well enough to hold on to them.

We saw all that last week in D.C., where a super high defensive line pushed the Fire team way up the field to pressure United players into mistakes that led to chances and goals. We saw the same thing in Dallas on Saturday night. Alex, especially, was way up the field in the first half, never letting the Dallas players play the ball comfortable in their own half. (Magee, Anangono, Patrick Nyarko, and Dilly Duka deserve credit too.) How many shots did the Fire have at the top of the Dallas box in the first 30 minutes? It was harassment.

So just like in DC, a high defensive line and concentrated pressure led to a 2-0 first half lead. But just like in DC, we saw where it could be dangerous. We saw the team pay the price of so much early pressure, with Nyarko tweaking a hamstring and the rest of the team almost running out of gas late in the second half. We also saw how pushing too eagerly can be scary:

But I like this high pressure because it fits the moment, with the Fire desperately needing these results to make the playoffs. There are just two games left and the Fire have to prove their potentially newfound consistency beyond the past two away wins. They have to show the urgency and the commitment and the work rate into the next two games, too. Klopas's high risk and high pressure tactic fits. 

It's a great moment: After all the work and all the struggle, suddenly the players’ quality shines through. Suddenly everybody trusts each other. Goals and points happen. Anibaba scores a stunner. Other teams hit the posts. 

I don't know about predicting anything against Toronto and New York. But if we keep seeing the Fire play as they have these past two games, they'll get to play a few more.

13 October 1:22 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. 

11 October 7:43 am

After getting the job done in DC last Friday night, the Fire head south to take on a FC Dallas side needing a miracle to make the MLS Cup playoffs Saturday night (7pm CT My50/TWC Wisconsin). Dallas are in free fall and despite the Fire’s record in Texas, the Men in Red should be settling for nothing less than three points. Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.

Perez away on Panama duty

Blas Perez has all the characteristics of an elite CONCACAF striker: finishing ability, gamesmanship and non-stop focus; similar to Carlos Ruiz. So perhaps it’s a good thing that the Dallas’s leading goal scorer is away for Panama’s crucial World Cup qualifying match with Mexico this weekend.

Perez has 11 goals on the year, with his closest teammate being Kenny Cooper at four. In Perez’s absence, it’s hard to see Dallas switching way from their lone striker formation and Cooper would seem the likely candidate to slot in after ending his nearly five-month goal scoring drought last weekend vs. RSL.

Cooper is a powerful forward that has historically done well against the Fire, tallying six goals in 12 career matches. With a goal last weekend under his belt and Dallas fighting for their playoff lives, he won’t be one to take lightly.

Focusing on Jackson – the Brazilian is instrumental in the Hoops’ attack

Jackson has impressed me in Dallas’s most recent matches against Columbus and RSL. He normally operates on the right wing, trying to get the ball inside to Perez or a midfield runner. In the last match against RSL, Jackson drifted inside more often.

This was in part due to the fact that RSL had a man sent off early after a disgraceful tackle on the Brazilian. He also showed that he can be a threat in the box, forcing Nick Rimando into a brilliant 1v1 save after an attempted flick over the keeper with the outside of his foot.

In last week’s match against DC, the Fire played a very open style of play in the first half, attacking in numbers. If you only looked at the score line, you would think that this tactic was a success but it could’ve been a lot different if it wasn’t for Sean Johnson. He bailed his team out with some brilliant saves after DC caught the Fire out with too many players forward.

It is understandable that the Fire will play in a similar fashion against Dallas due to the need for three points but allowing a player like Jackson time and space on a counter attack can be very dangerous.

Singling out Kellyn Acosta – targeting the Homegrown wingback

In their most recent home loss to Columbus, FC Dallas were exposed on the wings, most notably on the left where Dominic Oduro torched Zach Loyd. On the right, FC Dallas Homegrown player Kellyn Acosta also looked vulnerable. His distribution out of the back was poor; with the 18-year-old trying to play one-touch passes too often.

Columbus clearly targeted Acosta, with players such as Federico Higuain running at the defender whenever possible. A tactic that I would like to see on Saturday night is a constant switching of the Fire wide players so that Acosta is never comfortable.

If Fire wingers Nyarko, Duka, Alex and Co. can get into 1v1 or 2v1 situations with Acosta, it could pay dividends for the Men in Red.

Prediction: The Fire won’t play as open as last weekend but score early and late. 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex