MLS Regular Season
As we get set to complete yet another regular season, it donned on me yesterday to look back at this masterpiece that Fire defender Dan Gargan captured and put together with the help of MLS videographers Scott Riddell and Albert Lanzillo.
Shot throughout preseason and the team’s opening day 1-1 draw at Montreal’s nearly sold-out Olympic Stadium, Dan’s video showcased the preparation and work the team went through to get to that very monumental game back in March.
Looking back on it now, one of the most striking things is seeing how much the Fire have changed since January as you see a number of faces that are no longer with the club while also being reminded of just how many new faces have been added over the course of the year.
More than that though, this beautiful video reminds me as a fan and a writer of the cautious optimism we all had going into the year. Back then, if you’d have told Fire fans that had experienced the previous two years the team would be playing for second place in the East on the final day of the, everyone would have taken it.
Flash forward to today and that’s exactly where we are and yet we know the opportunities were there to go even higher.
Still, today the Fire play arguably the most important game at Toyota Park since the last time the team was in the postseason.
And so, re-watching this inspiring video is special to me for multiple reasons, but the most important is that it serves to remind how far this team has come in the three years I’ve been here but also the hard work that was put it back in January to get to this point.
Before heading out to Toyota Park today, take 2 minutes and 23 seconds out of your regular pre-game ritual, watch this video, and soak in how far this team has come in 2012.
It all comes down to Saturday. With one game remaining in the 2012 MLS Regular Season, the Fire host D.C. United Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:00 p.m. CT (NBC Sports Network), the meat of the tripleheader sandwich.
While the Fire have clinched a spot in the post season, Saturday’s match is crucial for seeding purposes. With a victory, the Men in Red, currently in third place, will take sole possession of second place. With a loss, the Fire could find themselves as low as fifth place.
Though two-time German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich is experiencing playoff soccer for the first time in his career, he understands the implications of Saturday’s match.
“Our one goal is to win the game,” said Friedrich.
One of the keys to victory for the Fire will be making sure to get the ball to forward Chris Rolfe. With teams now choosing to man-mark Rolfe, he told MLSsoccer.com that “It’s been a little bit more of a challenge finding the ball.”
Another key storyline for Saturday will be the battle between the Fire’s Austin Berry and D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon, two of the front-runners for the Rookie of the Year race. The former college teammates have been enjoying the campaigns put together by their respective clubs.
“I was dying laughing,” said Berry about D.C. United’s video in which DeLeon says, “I eat defenders for breakfast.”
Berry and his centerback partner Arne Friedrich both made Brian Straus and the Sporting News’ short list for the highly-anticipated year end awards.
With both head coach Frank Klopas and striker Sherjill MacDonald imploring fans to get in the stands early Saturday, ‘keeper Sean Johnson stopped by WGN Wednesday morning to discuss the importance of home field advantage at Toyota Park, so make sure to get in early and spur your Men in Red on to victory.
With one game left and all to play for, there's no doubt that Saturday's game against D.C. United (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network) is the the Fire's biggest game of the season to date. A win and the team finishes in second place in the Eastern conference and enjoys home field advantage for the Conference Semis. A loss or tie against DC and the Fire's destiny is out of their own hands, with a place between third and fifth in the cards. That being said, lets look at some tactical points for the big match.
Andy Najar - don't fool me twice
Andy Najar's coming out party as a right back was against the Fire in August when he put in a Man of the Match performance in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium. Najar should start at right back again Saturday afternoon and the Fire will need to a much better job of containing him this time out. Against the Columbus Crew last week, Najar pushed forward constantly and provided an outlet for DC on the right. Columbus allowed Najar far too much room and he duly obliged by looking to cross the ball whenever possible.
WATCH: Fire vs. United Preview
D.C.'s midfielders look to switch the field of play to the advanced Najar whenever possible, something the Fire must look out for. For all his attacking prowess however, Najar can get caught too far up the field, something the left side tandem of Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko will be looking to exploit if the opportunity arises.
Stopping United from playing our game - target striker
D.C. sets up in a similar way to the Fire, namely with a target striker with an attacking mid/second striker playing just behind him. Against Columbus last week, Maicon Santos played just behind target man Lionard Pajoy. The partnership is still in its infancy, but should continue from the start on Saturday afternoon.
Against Columbus, Pajoy and Cesar did not combine well, often drifting too far from one another to effectively link up. DC's wide men, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon, did their best to move central and support Pajoy whenever possible. Both of the wide players tendency to move inside caught Columbus short handed on a few occasions, especially when one of the wide men failed to drop back.
D.C. are not a team blessed with many creative players who look to take on their opponents, especially without Dwayne De Rosario. If the Fire can cut the supply line to Pajoy and force United to resort to trying to take them on it will work to the Men in Red’s advantage.
D.C.'s midfield - attacking through the middle
Similar to the Fire, United set up with two holding midfielders, Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa. In last week’s game against Columbus, both players were exposed by some neat interplay between the Columbus midfielders who quite simply passed the ball around Kitchen and Saragosa at times, especially in the first half.
Part of the reason for the exposure was because D.C.'s more advanced midfield trio failed to drop back quickly enough to support the holding midfielders when United lost possession. In the second half, this happened a lot less frequently, but it certainly is an area in which the Fire can try to take advantage. If the Fire can get midfielders forward in numbers, something they haven't been able to do as often in the last few games, then they could put some real pressure on the D.C. holding midfield core.
The return of Pardo - an experienced head for a big game
Since losing Pavel Pardo, the Fire have gone 3-3-0 in his six game absence. In the six games prior, the team won five and lost one. That stat alone gives you an indication as to how important Pavel is to the team.
His partnership with Logan Pause in the Fire engine room is one big reason for the Fire being a lot harder to break down this year. Pardo also reads the game as well as anyone in MLS, constantly positioning himself well to intercept a pass or pick up an advancing midfielder.
Having Pardo, a man with almost 150 caps for Mexico, will also be extremely important for the playoffs, especially because three of the five behind him have no postseason experience. Pardo's return gives the team an added boost ahead of the biggest game of the season to date.
Prediction: This game is going to be just as intense and nerve wracking as a playoff game but a sold out crowd at Toyota Park should give the Fire the advantage. 1-0 Fire with the goal coming from Chris Rolfe.
Campaigns, trash talk and the truth.
During the race for the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year award there has been a lot of chatter. Who ranks where and what is valued more from fresh-faced rookies - Goals? Assists? Saves? Defense?
Adapting to MLS can be a challenge. It’s a long season fraught with ups and downs, the speed of play is accelerated, often as a central defender you are up against a striker with class skills and experience to match.
For Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry it isn’t about the rankings or the hoopla, it’s about putting in the work needed to help the team.
Berry has made his way onto a Life cereal box.
While there has been PR to support the rookie defender who has started 27 matches for a 17-11-5 Fire team that has only allowed 40 goals in 2012.
The real truth of the matter has been Berry’s play. Through his efforts alone, Berry has cut through the clutter, letting his game speak for itself…
Austin #Berry4ROY: THE TRUTH
After two runs to the MLS Cup Final in three seasons, the high-flying Chicago Fire finished the 2001 MLS Regular Season similar to the previous year, winning the Central division and tying for the league’s best record (this time with Miami) only to be seeded second, losing on the tiebreaker to the Fusion.
Things might have gone differently if not for Ariel Graziani popping up once again to spoil the day in a match that would end up being the team’s last game of the 2001 season.
In that game played September 8 at Soldier Field, the Burn came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Graziani once again the culprit, scoring the 91st minute equalizer. Had the Fire been victorious in the match, the team would have eventually been awarded its first MLS Supporters Shield.
Alas, three days later everything changed with the September 11 terrorist attacks. With all eight playoff teams known at that point, MLS decided to cancel the remaining regular season games and move to the playoffs roughly nine days later, meaning the Fire would once again face Dallas in an opening round playoff series.
WATCH: 2001: MLS Cup Quarterfinals
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Dallas Burn – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)
Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 20, 2001
With the end of the September 8 game and memories of the devastating 1999 playoff defeat to Dallas fresh in their minds, it would be safe to say that the Fire held feelings of revenge in their hearts going up against their Brimstone Cup rivals.
The team would breakthrough just before halftime when Eric Wynalda’s free kick from the left picked out Carlos Bocanegra unmarked at the six, leaving the young Fire center back an easy header past Matt Jordon in the 40th minute.
Though the Fire held an 8-3 shots on goal advantage in the match, they weren’t able to put the Burn away until very late. Dallas would be awarded a direct free kick deep into stoppage time. Desperately looking for an equalizer, Jordan came all the way up the field to provide numbers but would regret it when Oscar Pareja’s take was hit straight into the wall before Peter Nowak intercepted a pass to start the counter attack.
The Fire captain fed a streaking Evan Whitfield in alone up the field and the current Fire color analyst outpaced Dallas defender Justin Evans to tuck the ball away and give the Fire a 2-0 victory in Game 1.
Chicago Fire 1, Dallas Burn 1 (OT) (Game 2)
The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
September 23, 2001
Back home for Game 2, Dallas would take an early first half lead when Jason Kreis played a forward ball for Bobby Rhine at the top of the area. The Burn forward would find Chad Deering streaking through midfield and played a pinpoint pass into the box that the U.S. international one-timed past Zach Thornton in the 27th minute.
It looked as though Dallas would tie the series up at three points each the Fire had other ideas. In the 84th minute, Peter Nowak penetrated towards the middle of the field before feeding Dema Kovalenko into the box. The Ukrainian fired a quick effort that Matt Jordan did well to save but substitute striker Jamar Beasley was on the doorstep to equalize.
After 10 minutes of extra time, Beasley’s goal would stand to send the series back to Chicago with the Fire needing only a draw in Game 3 to advance.
Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
September 29, 2001
Back in Chicago for Game 3, there was little doubt the Fire would advance.
In the 17th minute, Peter Nowak’s corner from the left was headed down in the area by Evan Whitfield leaving Dema Kovalenko to scrap inside the six, eventually knocking home the go-ahead goal.
Needing only a tie, the Fire would go for the jugular in the second half when Nowak made one of his patented long runs through midfield. The Fire captain entered the box on the left and saw a bit of confusion when his last touch on the ball was a bit heavy, allowing for Chris Armas to bury the second goal in the 55th minute and send the Fire to its third MLS Cup semifinal in four years.
#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 LA Galaxy – MLS Cup semifinals (first to five)
Chicago Fire 1, LA Galaxy 1 (OT) (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 10, 2001
The Fire had already received bitter disappointment from the Galaxy in late August when Alexi Lalas’ 94th minute “golden goal” knocked the team out at the semifinal stage.
The home side would take the lead in the 32nd minute when Peter Nowak gallivanted through midfield before sending DaMarcus Beasley down the left flank. The second-year Fire winger crossed to the back post where Eric Wynalda first-timed his effort past Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.
The Galaxy would equalize just before halftime after Chris Armas was judged to have brought down Sasha Victorine at the top of the penalty area. Vaunted Galaxy striker Luis Hernandez saw his spot kick saved by Zach Thornton but buried the rebound to tie the score in the 44th minute.
The Fire would be dealt a blow in the 60th minute when Evan Whitfield was shown a straight red card for pulling down Cobi Jones who was in alone on goal. Despite playing a man down for the final 30 minutes of regulation and 10 more in overtime, the Fire escaped the match with a point in the 1-1 draw.
LA Galaxy 1, Chicago Fire 0 (OT) (Game 2)
Titan Stadium, Fullerton, Calif.
October 13, 2001
The Fire returned to the site where the team fell in U.S. Open Cup semifinals nearly two months before and already without Whitfield due to his one-match suspension, would be dealt another blow when Peter Nowak left the game at halftime with a hamstring strain, ending his participation in the remainder of the team’s playoff run.
In eerie similarity to the the August Open Cup match, the game would head to overtime and see another Galaxy winner come in the 94th minute when Peter Vagenas tallied off a Luis Hernandez feed, giving the Galaxy a 4-1 points advantage heading back to Chicago for Game 3.
LA Galaxy 2, Chicago Fire 1 (OT) (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 13, 2001
Returning home, the Fire would once again take the early lead at Soldier Field when Chris Armas fed DaMarcus Beasley through in the 30thminute.
Again though, similarities to a previous match between the two sides would reign supreme. This time when the Galaxy’s Danny Califf would tally the equalizer in the 44th minute (the same time as Luis Hernandez’s penalty put back in Game 1) that would eventually send the match to extra time.
In the overtime period, LA’s Mauricio Cienfuegos would tally his second overtime winner of the postseason, finishing off the Fire in the 98th minute and sending the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup appearance.
For the Fire, it would mark the team’s first home playoff loss in four seasons.
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich. This season, Arne has commanded the rock solid Fire defense in 22 matches, holding opponents to 40 goals. A native of Bad Oeynhausen, Germany, Arne has been capped 82 times for Germany, helping Die Mannschaft to matching third place finishes in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups. Arne took the time to answer our Burning Questions about his newfound cooking skills, what music he prefers and how often he throws a handstand.
Always on the Inside: You often talk about how much you like Chicago. Is there something you haven’t yet experienced?
Arne Friedrich: I’ve never been to a Bulls game. That’s what I’ve missed so far. I’m hoping I can see a game when the new season starts. So for me, there is so much exciting stuff to do in Chicago and I just recommend people to come here and visit the town. Especially in Europe and German, nobody knows about Chicago that much. The city doesn’t have the same reputation as New York, and it’s fantastic.
AOTI: Is there anything that Chicagoans do differently?
AF: Not really; when I came here, I didn’t expect that the city would be so clean. That was the first thing I noticed compared to New York because they’re always rivals. The city is so clean and there are so many parks, we have trees, so much stuff going on during the summer. We have the beach and downtown. Everything you need.
AOTI: There is a video from the German Women’s National Team’s recent visit to Toyota Park in which you do a handstand. Do you often do handstands?
AF: This is very nice! It’s good posture. I don’t know why I did that. I guess it’s the first time. I don’t know, it was just a joke and everybody is watching me. Nice! It’s not bad. I didn’t know that I could do that.
AOTI: So do you do yoga?
AF: I did it in Germany. But I guess everyone can do that. It’s a one-time thing.
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween?
AF: It's my first Halloween. We don't celebrate it in Germany, especially not in Berlin where I used to live. I'm absolutely excited. I saw that so many people dress their yard up and it looks so funny with the pumpkins and all the stuff. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing all the stuff.
AOTI: Are you planning on dressing up?
AF: I’m not sure, it depends on what my teammates are going to do. We’re going to talk about that.
AOTI: The number 23 is a big deal in Chicago. Who is better, Michael Jordan at soccer or Arne Friedrich at basketball?
AF: We should come together and try to prove it because I don’t know how he plays soccer. My basketball skills are, I don’t know, maybe average. Definitely we should try it.
AOTI: You gave Austin Berry the nickname “Jerry Berry”. Have you given anyone else a nickname? Do you have any nicknames yourself?
AF: I don’t have any nicknames. It’s always funny, I just call people something different. It’s always funny but I don’t want to tell that.
AOTI: In my Google search, I found that the ladies often refer to you as a prince. Do you know where that originated?
AF: What? No! Not even once! I’ve never seen that. Really? Wow. I didn’t know that.
AOTI: Your favorite musical genres are Pop and R&B. Who are your top three musical artists?
AF: I like Eminem. Not his nature maybe but I like his music. There’s so much good stuff. I usually like R&B. I like the group Hurts. And T.I., Papa Trey. There’s so much nice stuff. Music is nice. It’s good that we have music.
AOTI: What is your favorite food and what is your favorite restaurant?
AF: My favorite food is definitely the Italian cuisine. I also started to cook a little bit for myself. I’m a very bad cook, I have to concede that. But I just try to practice every day. Normally, two or three times a week, I go to Vapiano on Clark Street.
AOTI: What’s the one thing you want to be good at cooking? Is there a specialty you want to have?
AF: Not really. My problem is that I don’t work with spices. And this is the problem, it always tastes very plain. It might be healthy but it doesn't taste good.
AOTI: You have a time machine. Which era would you like to visit?
AF: I would like to go in the past when Jesus lived.
Yesterday, I began the ambitious 11-part Playoff History series with a bang, taking a look back on the club’s magical run to the 1998 MLS Cup championship. Today, we step a year ahead to the bitter disappointment of an early exit from the 1999 MLS Cup playoffs.
It’s important to preface the club’s playoff experience in 1999 with a bit of context. After winning the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, the Fire began a season of disappointments the following year with an early exit at the eventual U.S. Open Cup champions Rochester Rhinos on July 14.
Out of domestic cup competition, the team continued to focus on regular season play for the next two months before taking part in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas that fall. Playing on the rock-hard pitch at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Fire dispatched Trinidadian side Joe Public 2-0 in the first round before going to penalties with Costa Rican power Alajuelense after a 1-1 draw in the semifinal.
In the shootout, Lubos Kubik, who the year before had tallied six of six penalties taken during the regular season and playoffs, shot second and skied his effort high over the bar. His miss was the only one on the night as the Fire fell 5-4 to Alajuelense and leaving the Fire to miss out on the CONCACAF final played two days later.
“In 1998 we seemed like a team of destiny that was just preordained to win. A year later, it seemed the fates were evening out and there was nothing we could do to prevent the inevitable failure.” – Former Chicago Fire President Peter Wilt
#2 Dallas Burn vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Western Conference Semifinals (best of three)
With the teams splitting their four matchups during the regular season, three of which went to the old MLS shootout to be decided, this playoff encounter promised to be a tight one.
GAME 1 played 10/16/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
WATCH: '99 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Dallas
Despite their previously more exciting matche, the first half of Game One could have seemed more like a heavyweight bout where no one wanted to land the first punch as neither team registered a shot on goal.
The home side did have a bit more of the play though and took the lead in the 52nd minute through Ariel Graziani when the Ecuadorian striker chipped Oscar Pareja towards the end line before the current Colorado Rapids coach centered across the box for an easy finish.
The goal also marked the first time the Fire had ever trailed in a postseason match.
Dallas would take their lead to 2-0 in the 75th minute when Graziani pounced on a loose ball at midfield. He’d stroll alone into the box, forcing Fire ‘keeper Zach Thornton to the floor before sliding the ball to the charging Mark Santel on the right, leaving the former U.S. international an easy finish past the desperate slide of Fire defender Tom Soehn.
The 2-0 score line seemed to wake the Fire up, pulling one back just four minutes later. Peter Nowak found the ball at the top of the penalty area and played it into the path of substitute midfielder John Ball on the right who slid a low effort past Dallas ‘keeper Matt Jordan.
With the goal, the Fire were charged for an equalizer but saw late efforts from Paul Dougherty, Diego Gutierrez and Ball all go begging, eventually falling 2-1.
GAME 2 played 10/23/1999 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
Staring elimination in the face, the Fire picked up on the momentum from the end of the first game and took the lead 18 minutes in.
Diego Gutierrez had a misplaced clearance fall for him and took a low blast from distance. The ball ended up running perfectly into the stride of Peter Nowak who took one touch into the box before finishing past Jordan.
The Fire would double their lead 18 minutes later when Roman Kosecki pounced on a bouncing ball in midfield and strolled towards goal before hitting a somewhat weak left-footed effort that eluded Jordan and tucked inside the left post.
Ante Razov (right) would take the score to 3-0 just before the break. Chasing down a long ball out of the back from Jesse Marsch, Razov bodied off the challenge of Richard Farrer before seeing Jordan far off his line. The second-year Fire striker turned with the ball and hit a 20-yard effort that left the Dallas ‘keeper only with a front row seat to see it.
Jordan continued his shocking display just after the half. Nowak chipped a ball into the box from the left for Kosecki who could only get a partial touch to the ball, making it look as if the Dallas ‘keeper would come off his line to claim it. Jordan was a step late in his approach, however and Dema Kovalenko ran on, took a touch and finished from close range to close out the 4-0 score line.
The Fire seemed to have resurrected the demons from Game 1 and after Jordan’s horrific performance in the second game, left Dallas coach Dave Dir to make a switch to veteran Mark Dodd for Game 3.
GAME 3 played 10/27/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
The Fire’s momentum from Game 2 seemed to barely miss a beat in the decider with the Fire taking on three minutes to go up 1-0.
On the goal, Jerzy Podbrozny played a quick centering pass for Lubos Kubik who played Ante Razov through into the box. To get through the Dallas back line, Razov spun in stride without even touching the ball before placing his low effort past Dodd.
The series looked all but over two minutes later. Kubik lined up for a free kick 35 yards from goal and whipped a beautiful in-swinger between the penalty spot and the six-yard box where a sliding Jesse Marsch redirected the ball past Dodd and into the top right corner to go up 2-0.
Things weren’t all roses for the Fire in the first half as Razov left the match in the 15th minute with a hamstring strain. Already without Josh Wolff who had suffered a torn ACL back in August, the team’s attack lacked its two leading scorers for the remaining 75 minutes.
As a result, the Fire would start to fall apart after the break. In the 55th minute, future Fire defender Sergi Daniv sent a cross from the right that Zach Thornton could only get a hand to before Chad Deering cleaned up with a header at the back post in the 55th minute.
After the strike, the Fire would look to take back their two-goal lead but Dodd would stand tall turning away three efforts in two minutes from Peter Nowak (67th) Lubos Kubik (68th) and John Ball (69th).
Gaining in frustration, the team was awarded a number of yellow cards but maintained the 2-1 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Things would come undone though when defender C.J. Brown, who had done a great job in marking Dallas striker Jason Kreis throughout the series, was whistled for handling the ball in the box in the 83rd minute. On the ensuing penalty, Jorge Rodriguez sent Thornton the wrong way and brought the match level.
With Dallas holding all the momentum at home, they pushed forward for the game and series clincher in the 90th minute. John Jairo Trellez pushed up on the right and centered a ball that deflected off of Brown and saw Thornton make a swiping effort before falling straight to the feet of Graziani (right) who cruelly one-timed his effort off the underside of the cross bar to complete one of the most stunning comebacks in MLS Cup playoff history.
The final 10 minutes and whole of 1999 left former Fire President Peter Wilt to simply say, “The penalty against us that tied the game seemingly made the final outcome inevitable. Just as 1998 was destined to be our year, 1999 was destined not to be.”
The Fire would be left to look for redemption in 2000 (coming Wednesday)...
Saturday night’s flat performance at New England combined with results in New York, D.C. and Houston have put the Fire in a precarious position going into this weekend's regular season finale vs. United. With all five playoff teams now known, the result for the Men in Red means the team could literally still be seeded anywhere from second to fifth in the East come Sunday morning…
With only one regular season game left, this will be the last edition of Playoff Math for 2012 where I look at each team's best and worst case scenarios and potential seedings. Enjoy!
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 60 (40 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/2
Last Game: vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: Things have worked pretty well for KC heading into the playoffs. Saturday night they went and earned a second result in New York this season and combined with the Fire’s failure at New England, have nearly locked down the top spot in the East. At the very least, they'll finish second.
The Best Case: All they need to do is earn a draw in their final game against Philadelphia to take the top seed.
The Worst Case: A loss to Philly at midweek combined with a D.C.win over the Fire would push Sporting down to second based on the Goals For tiebreaker.
Beyond just being a solid team, Sporting have more than earned their position in the table by being smart about how they’ve earned results in difficult places to play.
2) D.C. United
Current Points: 57 (52 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/4
Last Game: at Chicago (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: D.C. was the biggest mover of the night and did it all in dramatic fashion by coming back from two deficits to eventually down the Columbus 3-2 behind Lewis Neal’s stoppage time strike. The win propelled United past the Fire and into second, qualified them for their first postseason berth since 2007 all the while helping to end the Crew’s postseason hopes.
The Best Case: A win Saturday against the Fire combined with a Sporting loss to Philadelphia would push United to first in the East. They could still lock down second on Saturday with just a draw against Chicago.
The Worst Case: A loss to the Fire and a New York win over Philadelphia would push D.C. to fourth and force them to host the Eastern Conference play-in game on October 31 or November 1.
3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 2/5
Last Game: vs. D.C. United (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: After winning seven of eight in late summer and fall, the Men in Red have dropped their last three of four. There is reason to be nervous but be glad the team is home and can still control their own destiny as it comes to earning a higher seed.
The Best Case: All it would take for the Fire to lock up second in the East is a win at home against D.C. on Saturday.
The Worst Case: New York will end its match with Philadelphia a half hour before kickoff at Toyota Park -- If the Red Bulls win and the Fire lose or draw against D.C. the team will at least be condemned to fourth place.
Then the team will point its eyes to Denver where Colorado hosts Houston (8pm CT) in the final match of the 2012 MLS regular season – if the Dynamo win with a Fire loss against DC, the Men in Red will fall to fifth and open up the postseason at Houston. If the Fire draw against D.C., they’ll remain fourth regardless of what happens in Colorado.
4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 54 (54 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
Last Game: at Philadelphia (10/27; 12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network)
The Rundown: New York will be disappointed to not have done more against Sporting KC in two huge home games towards the end of the season but will be happy to go into the final weekend with a playoff berth locked.
The Best Case: Because the Fire and United play and are already ahead of New York, there is no way for Red Bull to finish higher than third. With that in mind, all they need to do is defeat Philadelphia to lock in third place and avoid the play-in game.
The Worst Case: A draw or less to Philadelphia and then Red Bull will also be watching the Houston/Colorado match closely that night. A Houston win would mean the Dynamo would at the very least host New York in the play-in game, while a draw or loss would mean Red Bull would host the Dynamo.
5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 53 (48 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
last Game: at Colorado (10/27 8pm CT on Direct Kick/MLS Live)
The Rundown: Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia Saturday night combined with D.C.’s victory over Columbus clinched the 2011 MLS Cup finalists a place back in the playoffs. Because of their appearance in last year’s championship match, the Dynamo also have to juggle the final group game of CONCACAF Champions League play this Wednesday when they welcome Honduran side Olimipa to BBVA Compass Stadium.
Luckily for the Dynamo, they need only a draw in the game to ensure advancement to the next round ahead of having to close out the regular season and fight for positioning in the East with a match at altitude in Colorado.
The Best Case: The Dynamo could finish as high as third in the East if both New York and Chicago lose their games earlier in the day and Houston defeats Colorado.
The Worst Case: The Fire and Red Bull both win their earlier matches condemning the Dynamo to fifth and rendering the game that night at Colorado meaningless. In that case, Houston would travel to D.C. United for the play-in game.
The Fire stopped a two-game skid in convincing fashion last time out, beating New York 2-0 at Red Bull Arena. The team travels to New England Saturday night (LIVE 6pm CT on NBC 5.2) to play a Revolution team riddled with injuries and eliminated from the playoff race. As we saw two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Union, a team playing for pride can be extremely dangerous so there is no room for complacency. Here are some things to look for from a tactical standpoint.
Jerry Bengtson - stopping the target man
New England's designated player, Jerry Bengtson, has settled very well in MLS since his arrival halfway through 2012. The Honduran plays the same role as Sherjill MacDonald does for the Fire, holding up the ball and looking to combine with the advancing midfielders. Bengtson also likes to roam into wide positions, encouraging his support players to move into the space he vacates.
Bengtson also comes into the game on a high after scoring a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of Canada in San Pedro Sula Tuesday night. It is commonplace for an international returning his club team after representing his country twice in four days to start the game from the bench but given New England's injury crisis, it is a near certainty that he will be leading the line come Saturday night.
WATCH: Matko's Take on New England
Cutting off the supply to Bengtson is very important.
Juan Toja - a creative spark from the bench
Since joining the Revs over a month ago, Toja has made four appearances, all from the bench. The former Dallas player showed what he is capable of in New England's last game against Philadelphia, coming on for the last twenty minutes and making a big impact.
Toja is a player who wants the ball at all times, often dropping deep to collect it and start an attack. Against the Union, he looked to get the ball wide as much as possible but also looked to take on players whenever the opportunity arose.
It is obvious that Toja is not 100% match fit and unlikely he will start on Saturday night, but he will almost certainly be the first man off the bench, especially if the Revs need a goal. The Union did not adjust to Toja coming on and allowed the midfielder far too much room to create, something the Fire will need to prevent if he makes an appearance.
Fire attack - no need to force it
In the Fire's last game in New York, the team for the most part played as any good away team should, absorbing pressure and counter attacking whenever possible. The team also did well to retain possession but at times were guilty of trying to force the ball forward, sometimes resulting in a careless giveaway, especially in the final third of the field.
The aim was to get the ball to advanced forward Sherjill MacDonald, either directly to his feet so he could hold the ball up or to play a ball into the channels for MacDonald to run onto. At times this was very successful, but the midfield seemed desperate to get the ball up the pitch, instead of playing the simple pass and retaining possession.
The main culprit of this of late is Uruguayan Flaco Fernandez who has had a slight dip in form since being recalled to the Uruguayan National Team. Fernandez is vital to the Fire's attack and the New England game provides him with an opportunity to rediscover the blistering form he was in a few weeks ago.
Double teaming in defense - leads to counter attacks
Against New York, the Fire did a much better job of pressuring their opponents instead of sitting back and allowing them to come and attack them. Often the Fire would double team an opponent in order to win the ball back which was very successful.
Both goals the Fire scored against the Red Bulls came from forcing a turnover by double or sometimes triple teaming the opposition. To do it successfully, the outside midfielders much at times tuck in to support the center mids or drop deep to support the outside defenders.
The other key element of the double teaming tactic is to quickly counter when you do win the ball. The Fire did not give New York enough time to adjust after losing possession and thanks to the runs and finishes of Sherjill MacDonald, the Men in Red were able to leave New York with all three points. Look for the Fire to continue this trend against New England this weekend, especially when a player like Toja gets the ball.
Prediction: The Fire avenge a loss at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season by winning 2-0. Goals from Chris Rolfe and Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Berry.
Prediction Record since August 4: 6-3
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Homegrown midfielder Victor Pineda gave fans a little help with their Fire withdrawals over the international break, scoring a highlight reel goal in Reserve team’s 2-1 loss at Houston on Saturday.
The goal stood as the 19-year-old midfielder’s second in 2012 MLS Reserve League play this season and was deemed good enough to garner nearly 2,000 views on YouTube and make the front of MLSsoccer.com on Thursday morning.
“He’s maturing and I think every year its better,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “The Reserve League gives him that opportunity to stay sharp. It’s good that he scored but more important is that he played well – his ability to understand without the ball you need to be able to defend and work hard without the ball – he’s getting better at that.
The rocket strike has led some Fire fans who have only had the opportunity to see the club’s first Homegrown player in Reserve and friendly matches to clamor for his competitive debut before the end of the season.
Given the Fire could still clinch first place in the East and also put themselves in a position for CONCACAF Champions League qualification, one might a 2012 debut might not be in the cards but Klopas left the possibility open.
“We just have to see how the game situation goes. A lot is up to him and how he does in training as well. He’s a young player, you have to understand that it takes time with him. His attitude is good, he’s sharp and playing well in the Reserve matches so it shows me that he’s ready to contribute if we need him to.”
With Alvaro Fernandez coming off more than a week away with Uruguay as well as travel back Stateside, Saturday's game at New England could provide a perfect substitute opportunity for young Vic.
WATCH: Victor Pineda Golazo in Houston