Blog

Montreal Impact

23 April 10:13 am

Frank Yallop winless in seven games, unbeaten in six as head coach of Chicago Fire

What is it going to take for Frank Yallop to get his first regular season victory as head coach of the Chicago Fire?

Following Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 tie at home to the New England Revolution, the Fire are now without a win in seven MLS games after an opening day defeat at Chivas USA and six subsequent ties as their season has yet to fully take off.

However, four of those seven games were on the road, so if the Fire can pick up all three points at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, May 3 after a bye week, the complexion of the season, and more importantly the table, will suddenly look a whole lot better.

Thankfully for Yallop and his coaching staff, the Chicago fan-base have shown remarkable patience and understanding as he tries to impart his philosophies and footballing ideals on to this new group of players.

Yallop came to the Fire with a proven track record in the MLS following a lengthy professional career in England and on the international stage with Canada.

His vast experience in England and early MLS successes as a coach with San Jose Earthquakes has given Yallop, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the confidence to remain calm despite the relatively disappointing start to the campaign.

When speaking about the team, their attitude, their effort in training and their prospects for the season, Yallop hasn’t changed in his thinking since his arrival at Toyota Park last October. If anything, he is more optimistic now than before the season began.

He sees a group of players that have shown significant signs of progress in the short time he has been with them and he believes that their first win is about to come. Yes, he believed it would come at home to the Red Bulls. Away to DC.

His confidence in himself and his team still intact, he insisted the win would come with the visit of the Union to Toyota Park. And again, a week later, there was an assured statement that the win would arrive on the road in Montreal.

Looking back, it is possible to see where and how three points may have been won in any of these games, with a little luck or a hint of good fortune. Mike Magee’s late penalty miss against Philadelphia. Late saves by the Impact’s Troy Perkins from Patrick Nyarko and Magee that would have earned the Fire their first win.

Juan Luis Anangono’s penalty miss against New England last time out was another glaring example of a missed opportunity and another occasion where the Fire should have sealed the three points their efforts over the previous 90 minutes deserved.

The reason no one has pushed the panic button just yet, is largely down to the quality of play produced each week, the vast amount of chances being created and the overall level of entertainment served up by Yallop and his attack-minded tactics.

No other team has had more shots this campaign at 101, while only the Montreal Impact have hit the target more often, 38 times to the Fire’s 35 (which they tie with the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City).

They are the fourth highest scorers after seven games with 10 goals, while Quincy Amarikwa is tied for second on the goalscoring list with four.

There are significant signs of improvement since the side’s defeat at Chivas, with Yallop’s influence gaining momentum with each and every game.

Having struggled to assert themselves in the possession stakes in the opening three games, the Fire have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents in their last three games.

This has translated itself into more goalscoring opportunities, with the Fire amassing an impressive 54 shots to their opponents’ 17 over the last three games.

Which suggests to me that they are doing well defensively, restricting other teams to an average of six shots per game, while also creating enough themselves to comfortably win games.

That has not happened thus far, but surely it is only a matter of time.

There have been several other positive features to Yallop’s tenure, most notably his willingness to give youth a chance. Earlier in the year, he insisted that he would select players on merit rather than reputation, and he has stood by that assertion with the likes of Harry Shipp, Benji Joya, Greg Cochrane and Victor Pineda all getting a chance to impress.

Add to that the blossoming central defensive partnership of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare, which has impressed in recent games despite the concession of 11 goals, and it is clear to see that the Fire have a solid base upon which to build.

His faith in the wing play of Nyarko and Shipp has also reaped reward with both players contributing to the fluent, incisive build-up play down both flanks that has been a feature of the Fire’s games thus far.

And with reigning MLS MVP Magee improving with every game following his early season injury problems, and his effective link up play with Amarikwa showing real signs of promise, surely that first win will come sooner rather than later.

Stats at a glance (the Fire read first):

Opponent Shots Possession % Pass Accuracy Passes
Chivas USA 7/14 44.7% / 55.3% 77% 303/369
Portland Timbers 14/21 38.5% / 61.5% 64% 243/398
New York Red Bulls 13/10 42.6% / 57.4% 72% 340/449
D.C. United 13/17 49% / 51% 72% 372 / 383
Philadelphia Union 20/7 53.2% / 46.8% 74% 349/304
Montreal Impact 17/6 56.2% / 43.8% 79% 420/333
New England Revolution 17/4 51.9% / 48.1% 76% 338/321

 

14 April 12:33 pm

#QuincyTime continued to take on a life of its own on this weekend when Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa scored the 54th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Montreal on Saturday.

With the goal, Amarikwa has already equaled his total for the whole of 2013 just six matches into this season and has been involved in a goal in five of those games.  Just to take it one further, Amarikwa has five goals and one assist in his last eight Fire appearances dating back to October 4 last season.

He started only five of those games.

So while the Fire are still winless in six matches (but unbeaten in five), Amarikwa seems to be the revelation early on this season. With the Fire having given up seven goals from dead ball sequences before Saturday, it was nice to see Amarikwa bury a set piece second ball for the Fire for a change.

One more look…

And for the second time this season, Quincy brought out the #cf97NaeNae to celebrate…

An MLS journeyman who's calling card has been coming off the bench, Amarikwa scored just four goals in his first 67 MLS matches but with six goals in the last year, he's already doubled his career goal total in 20 games with the Fire. As he continues to show efficiency on the field, I posed this question on Twitter Saturday…

What do you think are the reasons for Amarikwa’s turnaround with the Fire? Will he become the eighth Fire player to hit double-digit goals by year’s end? Give me your thoughts below!

10 April 3:29 pm

Ahead of Saturday's clash at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, neither Fire head coach Frank Yallop or the Impact's Frank Klopas will be happy with their team's defensive efforts five matches into the season, though they may have varying opinions about the number of goals their teams have produced.

See below the spots on the field both the Fire and Impact have scored and conceded from heading into Saturday's game:

CHICAGO FIRE BREAKDOWN

Goals Scored: 8 Goals Against: 9
Run of Play: 4 Run of Play: 2
Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 4 Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 7
Penalty Kick: 1, Corner Kick 2, Free Kick 1 Penalty Kick : 1, Corner Kick 3, Free Kick 3

MONTREAL IMPACT BREAKDOWN

Goals Scored: 5 Goals Against: 9
Run of Play: 5 Run of Play: 6
Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 0 Dead Ball/Set Piece Sequence: 3
Penalty Kick: 0, Corner Kick 0, Free Kick 0 Penalty Kick : 1, Corner Kick 0, Free Kick 2

 

10 April 8:38 am

After a heartbreaking draw against the Union last weekend, the Fire travel north to Montreal to face another side looking for a first win of the season Saturday (2:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC). The game has added spice with former coach Frank Klopas facing the Men in Red for the first time as opposition coach.

Here are a few tactical observations to keep in mind on Saturday.

Continued focus on the wing play - taking advantage of Shipp's positioning

In last Saturday’s match, Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup and impressed. On the other side of the field, Harry Shipp looks much more comfortable when he cuts inside, as opposed to hugging the touchline and taking on players.

Shipp's set piece play alone is worth a place in the starting eleven, but his ability to pick a pass is also a dangerous weapon. Shipp's tendency to drift inside also benefits the Fire for other reasons.

First, in the absence of a creative central midfielder, it’s not felt as much when the rookie comes central and occupies those positions. Against a team like Montreal that boasts an impressive attack, the use of two defensive-minded midfielders can be necessary (as I will explain in more detail later) but with Shipp filling the gap, the Fire don't lose much in an attacking sense.

Shipp's positioning also opens the door for Greg Cochrane to show his attacking talents from the left back position. Cochrane has fit seamlessly into the Fire back line and his excellent crossing ability has been on show in recent matches.

With the Impact's wide players like Mapp reluctant to track back on a consistent basis, the Fire could again benefit from attacking in the wide areas.

Continuing to win the ball high up the field - catching Montreal in transition

In the first half last week against New York, the Impact sliced through the Red Bull midfield as if they had three extra players on the pitch. Klopas emphasized transitioning the ball from defense to attack as quickly as possible and for most of the first half, that worked to devastating effect.

Montreal should've been well ahead at halftime but actually went into the break behind 2-1. The reason for this was because the Canadian team was caught trying to force the ball forward too quickly, resulting in turnovers, which the Red Bulls capitalized on twice in three minutes. I expect the Impact to try this tactic again on Saturday.

Players like Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa both like to hound the opposing team when they are in possession in their defensive third. The Fire's first goal last week was a perfect example of this, with Amarikwa nicking the ball from a defender before setting up Magee for an easy tap in.

If the Fire can force the Impact into turnovers high up the pitch, it could prove costly for the Canadian team.

Attempting to contain Montreal's fearsome attack - staying compact and limiting mental mistakes

Just when we thought an attack featuring Marco Di Vaio, an in-form Justin Mapp and Felipe was going to be a challenge, the Impact went out and acquired promising American youngster Jack McInerney.

This move could see the Impact change formation to a two striker statute with Di Vaio and Jack Mac up front or see McInerney play in one of the wide attacking roles behind the target striker. In any case, the fluidity of the Impact's attack will be a major challenge for the Fire to contend with on Saturday.

None of the Montreal attacking players stay static for long, with Felipe essentially having a free role in the hole, Di Vaio often pushing wide, and Mapp cutting inside with the ball at his feet on a regular basis. With this in mind, the Fire defense needs to stay organized and compact and not allow Montreal to drag players out of position.

This has not been a problem for the Fire this season, with most of the team’s nine goals against coming from lapses from set pieces. A clean sheet Saturday afternoon would be a massive achievement.

Prediction: The Fire score early and finish the game off late 2-0 with goals from Magee and Hurtado.

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

25 November 3:04 pm

One of my favorite days of the year is the day the MLS schedule is released.

For many fans, this announcement means compiling a list of blackout days where the Fire are playing at Toyota Park. For Fire fans not residing in the Chicagoland area, it means finding out when the Men in Red will be visiting your nearest MLS team. But for someone like me who has been on quite a few road trips (over 50 but not as many as this guy), the schedule release day means not only looking at the home fixtures but also the away ones.

Questions I asked myself earlier today: Does Toronto away fall on weekend instead of a Wednesday night? How much does it cost to fly to Portland in March? These important questions get answered on this special day.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five exciting dates in the 2014 Fire calendar:

Week 2 – Portland away – Saturday, March 15 

Ever since Portland came into the league in 2011, the Fire supporters umbrella, Section 8 Chicago, has had a very good relationship with the Timbers Army, Portland’s main supporters group. The relationship is based on mutual respect and a shared “dislike” of all things Seattle.

Fire fans are always treated well in Portland and it’s not uncommon for Fire and Timbers fans to hang out before and after the games, something you would never see Fire fans doing in Columbus or Kansas City.

The atmosphere at JELD-Wen Field is also second to none. Though is certainly isn’t going to be the easiest away trip on the field or the lightest on the wallet, I think we will see quite a few Fire fans making the trip to Portland in Week 2 instead of traveling to LA to watch the Fire face Chivas in the season opener.

Week 6 & 22 – Montreal away – Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, August 16

The Fire were the Montreal Impact’s opponents in the Canadian club’s first home MLS back in 2012 and I was lucky enough to be at the game and had a great time.

That game was played indoors at the Olympic Stadium with a less than favorable playing surface – something many of the Fire fans observed firsthand the day before the game when we were invited to watch the team train (see photo above).

Now the Impact have Saputo Stadium refurbished, which provides another incentive for traveling Fire fans who may not have gotten there earlier this year.

Montreal is also a unique MLS city for a number of reasons. I can’t think of another MLS city where fans can brush up on their French by talking to the locals or take in the spectacular Notre-Dame basilica while eating some amazing poutine!

Montreal can be quite cold in April, but luckily for Fire fans, the April date is only the first time the Men in Red visit The City of Saints. I hear the weather is a lot nicer in mid-August, when the Fire visit for the second time.

Week 11 – Columbus away – Saturday, May 24

Columbus or Fire House East as many Fire fans call it is the closest away trip of the season distance wise. Due to this fact, the number of Fire fans attending this match is exponentially bigger than most other away games.

In 2001, Fire fans went to Crew Stadium in their hundreds, even when the Fire was not playing! The Fire had been knocked out in the Conference Semifinals by the Los Angeles Galaxy and many fans turned up to cheer against LA (and for the then Frank Yallop-led San Jose Earthquakes) at MLS Cup.

There have been many highs experienced in Columbus, such as Paulo Wanchope’s winning goal in a 2007 match after the game was delayed due to a torrential downpour. Fire fans were also 45 minutes away from MLS Cup in 2008 but for a Crew comeback in the second half which left Fire fans, including myself, devastated. There’s also the 2012 invasion which saw 600 Fire supporters make the trek.

The Fire only play once at Fire House East this season and I expect to see a lot of red behind the goal on May 24.

Week 16 & 32 Kansas City away –Sunday, July 6 &  Friday, October 10

Kansas City is another road trip that fans have attended in large numbers throughout the years. My first trip to Kansas City was a disappointing one, with the Fire losing to the Kansas City Wizards in the final of the U.S. Open Cup in 2004.

Since then, the Kansas franchise has a new name and a soccer specific stadium. You can no longer play the count the crowd game that we often did when the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Most fans travel to this game by bus thus skipping the “delights” of downtown Kansas City and the bus ride does offer one cool treat – a visit to the world’s largest truck stop in Iowa.

Though SKC are not really a Fire rival (despite efforts made by the KC front office to make it into something bigger) there is certainly a dislike between the players and fans on both sides.

With the October 11 game coming so late in the season, it may be a pivotal one in terms of Playoff positioning.

Week 23 – Toronto away – Saturday, August 23

By far my favorite MLS city to travel to is Toronto. It's roughly the same distance from Chicago as Kansas City and again many fans travel to Canada on supporter’s buses.

Each visit, Fire fans shack up at a great hostel where we run into soccer fans from all over the world. Toronto itself is a great city aside from the prohibitive drinking laws on weekends (who doesn’t want to have a pint at 10am while watching the Premier League the next morning?).

BMO Field is located right on the shores of Lake Ontario and is thus left exposed and is often windy and chilly but the warm pies served at some of the concessions stands are an excellent halftime treat.

On the field, the Fire have had some good success against a TFC team that has languished near the bottom of the MLS table since starting in 2007. Thankfully, this match is on a Saturday in August so I expect a much larger contingent of Fire fans to attend.

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

20 October 5:13 pm

I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.

Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.

First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:

 

Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...

Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union  vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)

Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)

The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...

- Win at New York
- Draw/lose at New York and have either Houston draw/lose at D.C. or New England draw/lose at Columbus
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
 
The Fire can clinch the East's third seed if...

- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.

13 October 2:22 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 October 8:34 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All we can say is, typical Houston Dynamo…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 September 11:43 am

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

With that, let’s continue the Playoff Math…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 September 9:16 am

A quick word about points before some Juan Luis Anangono gifs from Saturday.

In all the European leagues this week, fans and onlookers, for the first time this season, started looking at the table in earnest. Suddenly those campaigns feel far enough along to warrant real despair or optimism. From highs at Napoli and Arsenal to the crises at United and Madrid, people spent the weekend frantically counting points, looking up past point totals, tracking average points per match stats, and worrying or gloating about their projected finishes.

That panic and fervor is why I don’t look at the table until at least halfway through a season. It’s too stressful and too small a dataset. But also, you can get a much better idea of a team’s title chances by watching them play a lot of games and watching other teams play a lot of games. Even though the table is king, there’s more to a game than its points.

I swear I’m coming back to the Fire but two quick things about points in general. First, they have a strange way of accumulating over time. You can only get zero, one, or three points, and yet they often feel like they’re coming or going in heaping clumps, like Salvation Army donations. They don’t feel like they grow calmly the way points per match stats indicate. (Anyway those stats are a little ridiculous. What do we really learn from a two-point-something line?) Points feel at once impossible to gain, then coming down in sheets.

But this is why the collection of points feels so good in soccer leagues all over the world, so much better than a regular season NBA win, to name the obvious example. You “steal a point” or “earn three points,” week in and week out. You figure a point saved is a point earned and the point savings account will pay off at the end of the season. You figure.

Points, despite their bewitching growth patterns, don’t lie when schedules are balanced and you know everyone’s playing everyone. At the end of the season the team with the most points is deservedly top. End of story. With the same points available over so long a time, it’s impossible to hide under a quick run of wins the way a team can in a playoff.

In MLS, it's a bit strange because most teams in the East play each other three times over the course of the season so qualifying for the playoffs will show who did the best against each other in the conference, not necessarily the best teams overall. Still, those teams deserve the chance to extend their season because they earned it from March to October. It's a huge dataset. No matter what happens between the Eastern Conference teams vying for the final playoff spots (Houston, Philadelphia, New England, and Chicago), I think that even with the imbalanced schedule, the points will have proven that over the long haul they were one of the top five teams.

Unless it’s the 2013 Fire. The 2013 Fire are doing their best to undermine the cold faultlessness of the point system, driving fans crazy with their fluctuating quality from half to half and game to game. Forget the table, at this point I’m convinced we won’t know if the Fire have made the playoffs until the final whistle of the final game in New York. They will continue to tease out points here and there until then. The others will slip, there’s nothing invincible about any of them, and the Fire either will or will not take advantage.

What I mean is that even though at this stage of the season it’s natural to whip out the calculators and do your Playoff Math and all that, it’s possible that even with just twelve points up for grabs, it’s still too early to talk conclusively about points. We should still be talking quality. If the Fire play the way they’ve shown they’re capable of, and as they did during parts of the second half on Saturday night, the points will come and they’ll make the playoffs. You don’t need a calculator to see that. Despite the despair of some fans and one player who called Saturday night’s game “heartbreaking,” I like Mike Magee’s comment: “We have four games left and we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Not a single one of the (what, eight or nine?) media and Twitter-hyped “MUST WIN” games have really been must-anythings so far. They’ve been opportunities to tweak and grow and get some points. The Fire now need points everywhere, but except perhaps for their ugly away record, the 12 points are actually quite feasible. DC will be coming off an emotional Cup Final, Dallas like the Fire has 40 points and all but out of the Western playoff race, Toronto is beatable, and NYRB may have clinched and have little to play for.

Of course, the Fire could also lose all four games. Who knows? The only sure thing is that there are twelve points for four teams to fight for, and the 2013 Fire has to earn it this year, conclusively, finally, or not. And that will be the measure of this team.

______

Saturday. I loved Frank Klopas’s adjustments at half. I loved the second half in general. But the first half was rough. In the first 15 seconds we have Juan Luis Anangono not quite focused yet:

Cut to the second half though, and Anangono, again symbolizing the entire team, was everywhere. He reacted quickly and had a point blank shot blocked before the ref whistled for that ill-fated PK. He was running at people (not always successfully, but still) and creating space for Chris Rolfe, Alex, and Magee to connect. But my favorite was in the 82nd minute: His super well-worked though unlucky chance that Rolfe created and Troy Perkins saved off the post. Anangono didn’t give up, he got the rebound and set up Magee, whose shot was cleared off the line:

More of that please, and with more of that we won’t even have to look at the table to know the Fire have extended their season.