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Montreal Impact

30 September 10:43 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 8:16 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.

28 September 11:00 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact
Toyota Park – Sept. 28, 2013
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
On the overall performance
 
“It is so tough because this game is a bit cruel. You get chances and we created a lot of opportunities. It’s been difficult because we’ve been dropping points. We could’ve been in a different situation. It’s crucial because it is towards the end. Every point that we drop we can’t get back. It is an opportunity to be in the final spot. The energy was there, we deserve to win but it doesn't always work out.”
 
On Montreal’s second goal
 
“You give them opportunities and they will score. They bring their energy. It is difficult. I thought the crowd was fantastic. They stood behind the team. You have to move on and learn from it.”
 
On the offense
 
“You have players and you need to use them. You saw the second half and I thought we had a good mentality and attitude. As a team we did enough, but we have to move on.”
 
Mike Magee Chicago Fire forward
 
On the missed penalty kick
           
“It won’t be the last one I miss but I’m confident taking them and I’ll bury the next one. That was a situation where I have to put that one away for the team.”
 
On the slow start and second half
 
“Obviously we needed to come out and press.  Our goal at the beginning of the game was to come out and press, but we didn’t do that.  I think Frank [Klopas] did a great job to make the changes at the half.  We just needed a spark.  Nothing against the guys that came out, we just needed a little something different.  Chris [Rolfe] and Alex both did a great job.  Tonight’s a game we had to win, but we’ll move on and get back to work on Monday.”
 
On giving up another late goal
 
“We need to put them away.  If I bury that PK the game is over.  Tonight’s on me.  I can’t expect the defense to keep bailing me out; we have to find a way to win these games to take some pressure off the defense.”
 
On how tough this result is
 
“It’s not tough at all.  We have to move on, there’s not enough time badger ourselves with what-ifs, we have four games left and tomorrow we move forward. We have four games left and we’re going to make the playoffs.”
 
Gonzalo Segares, Chicago Fire defender
 
On the result:
 
“We’re making mistakes offensively and defensively. We aren’t putting them away offensively and we can’t close it out defensively.  We played our hearts out to come back and to give it away is heartbreaking.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire midfielder
 
On the result
 
“It’s disappointing what happened at the end of the game, I’m personally very disappointed, but I think there’s a lot of positives that came from this game.  We went down a goal and showed a lot of character to come back in the second half and create a lot of chances to put the game away.  That’s why I’m not giving up on this season.  This team has a lot of character to dig itself out of holes and there are still four games to go and we still have a shot.”
 
On Magee’s performance
 
“He did what he does best, scoring, and got us back in the game.”
 
On winning the penalty
 
“I just saw some space behind the defender and I was actually going for the meg, but I think he closed it and I went past him and thought that I could take it.  The keeper charged me and my first thought was to chip it, but the angle was so tight that I couldn’t do it.  I knew that he committed, so I just needed to touch it by him because I knew he was going to foul me.”
 
27 September 7:49 am

After a disappointing loss in Columbus last weekend, the Fire come back to Toyota Park to face the Montreal Impact in the second to last home game of the season (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports 32). Montreal have dropped their last three of their fo MLS matches and are stalling at the wrong time. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Replacing Bakary Soumare at center back – a new partnership in the middle?

Since the return of Bakary Soumare to the Fire at mid-season, the Malian and Austin Berry have essentially played every match together in the middle. Though Baky has made a number of individual errors this season, his suspension comes at a bad time.

This opening provides a conundrum for coach Frank Klopas.

We could see the return of Hunter Jumper in the middle after his goal scoring exploits against SKC last month. Jalil Anibaba could also slot over to his natural position of center back with one of Wells Thompson, Mike Videira or Logan Pause filling in at right back.

In last weekend’s loss to the Crew, Jeff Larentowicz moved back into central defense after the Soumare red card. Starting Larentowicz in this position seems the most likely option but it would mean breaking up the midfield tandem of the former Revs player and Arevalo Rios, which has made the Men in Red an extremely difficult team to break down.

Whoever replaces Soumare will be tasked with stifling a Montreal team that has scored the third highest amount of goals in MLS this season.

Matching up against Marco Di Vaio – attempting to slow down MLS’s top goal scorer

There isn’t much to say about Marco Di Vaio that hasn’t been covered already. At 36 and in his first season in the league, he has made it look easy, scoring 18 goals to date.

An even scarier stat is that none of his goals have come from the penalty spot with Canadian Patrice Bernier continuing as the Impact’s regular PK taker.

Similar to Robbie Keane, Di Vaio’s finishing is a step above most MLS strikers. He also puts himself in excellent positions, with many of his goals coming from tap-ins. His header from two yards out against Columbus was a prime example of this.

Fortunately for the Fire, one of Di Vaio’s favorite set up men, Felipe, will be missing due to suspension. The absence of the Brazilian is a blow for the Impact but with Patrice Bernier and Justin Mapp having excellent seasons, Di Vaio will have ample opportunities Saturday night.

In a tactical preview for the Fire’s game against Montreal back in April I talked about cutting the supply line to the Italian but he still managed to bag the second goal in the Impact’s 2-0 win.

With the plethora of creative midfielders on the field for Montreal, the Fire players must not neglect Di Vaio because one lapse in concentration can be fatal.

Isolating the Impact’s aging Italian defenders – getting in 1v1 situations with Ferrari and Nesta

For allof Montreal’s attacking prowess, the Impact have given up the most goals of any team currently holding playoff positions. Both Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari are excellent and experienced defenders, often making up for a lack of pace with brilliant positioning.

Both players have shown to be uncomfortable however when they are in 1v1 situations against a player with a lot of pace. This does not happen often but if the opportunity arises, most likely from a counter attack, the Fire must capitalize.

The movement from the Fire’s attacking players has dragged center backs out of position on numerous occasions this season and I look for Mike Magee and Co. to do the same on Saturday night, especially against players who have lost more than a step of pace.

Prediction: 1-0 Fire with a goal from Magic Mike Magee 

24 September 9:06 am

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

The latest edition of Playoff Math awaits you below: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 September 11:28 am

For the first time since we started 2013 Playoff Math, you'll notice the graphic above has changed, meaning teams switched places after the weekend's results. That certainly makes everything more interesting!

Let's do this...

 

1) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 48 (14-9-6)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WWWLD (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 41.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

 

Rundown: With Sporting KC sitting idle and Montreal losing at home vs. Columbus, Red Bull continued to hold serve with a 2-0 home win over Toronto Saturday. With five games remaining, New York could be on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth with a win vs. FC Dallas this weekend combined with losses for Philadelphia and New England.

 

2) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-8-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LWDWW (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-2-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 37.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Montreal took a bit of a hit, being upset 2-1 by Columbus on Saturday – their first home loss to an Eastern Conference team this season. They still hold games in hand over both New York and Sporting KC and like Red Bull, can get on the cusp of a playoff berth with a win Saturday at home vs. Vancouver but you wonder how a cross continent trip for Tuesday’s Champions League match at San Jose will effect them?

 

3) Sporting KC

Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WWLLW (9pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

 

Rundown: Sporting KC got rest this weekend ahead of a two-game week. Having won both of their early Champions League matches on the road, they should only need a draw at home against Real Esteli on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout round, before visiting Toronto FC on Saturday in league play. Like the two teams above them, a win in that match combined with dropped points below will push Sporting KC back to the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 40 (11-9-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-3-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 36.0
Remaining Schedule: 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

 

Rundown:  After what was likely their worst stretch of the season, the Houston Dynamo rebounded with a huge 1-0 away win at Philadelphia Saturday night, pushing the side back inside the playoff bubble.

They’ll recharge this weekend before tackling a crucial Champions League match vs. W. Connection and home game vs. Chivas USA in the span of three days next week. Crucial matches at New England, vs. Montreal and Sporting KC follow and will go a long way to determining Houston’s playoff fate and potential positioning.

 

5) Chicago Fire

Current Points: 39 (11-11-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: WDLDW (8pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-2 / 2-6-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 57
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

 

Rundown:  The Fire missed a definite opportunity, dropping two points at Toronto FC on Wednesday but regrouped well to earn a key win vs. playoff contenders New England Saturday night, putting the Men in Red in playoff position for the first time this year after starting the season 2-7-1 through 10 games.

 
Whether the team has a slight advantage or disadvantage vs. the other postseason hopefuls depends on how you look at it. They do have the second easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponents points average but only two of the remaining six matches will be played at Toyota Park. Winning those home games remains key while taking a minimum of six points away from home will be needed if the team hopes to continue its season past October 27.

 

6) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-10-9)
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home  / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLD (2pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Pts: 34.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

 

Rundown: Philadelphia is the team reeling the most this week after falling 1-0 at home to playoff rivals Houston. In terms of form, the Union have taken just two points from their last five and of their five remaining games, have two against Sporting KC (home and away) and one at Montreal.

 

The Union are tied with the Fire on points but are in a more difficult spot with a tougher schedule and one less game to play…

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-11-7)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDWW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Pts: 36.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: There was a point on Saturday (actually two) that New England’s Playoff Math was looking rather good. Then Juan Luis Anangono, Mike Magee and Alex all happened. Soccer.

They get to rebound from their two consecutive losses with a home match vs. D.C. this week before a stretch of three critical matches vs. Houston, at New York and Montreal to close out September and open October. They could easily be out of the playoff race or be making a strong push into the top three by then.

 

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 35 (10-14-5)
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home / 2 away)
Last 5 Games: WLWLL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule:  9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

 

Rundown: The Crew pulled off their biggest win of the season, winning away at Montreal 2-1 last Saturday. There’s little doubt that the victory boosted morale for the team but they still sit four points back of the playoff bubble and only have five games left.

 

The Crew have their backs against the wall with every remaining match, needing to win and hope teams above drop points. They can do both with a victory over the Fire on Saturday but any loss at this point really takes them all but mathematically out of the equation.

 

The goal for the Crew should be to take at least seven points from the next three matches, to make their season-ending home and home series vs. New England still matter. 

 
03 September 8:48 am

After an interesting weekend of results, no teams actually changed spots in the Eastern Conference standings, though the group at the top all sit tied on points. Down below, Philadelphia and New England each held serve in spots four and five with weekend draws while the Fire missed a chance to leapfrog Houston with their home tie on Sunday.

The breakdown:

1) Montreal Impact

Current Points: 42 (12-7-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home/ 5 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 69
Average Opponents Pts: 35.1
Remaining Schedule:  9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Despite their top spot in the conference, Montreal has had an abysmal road record vs. the East (1-6-2) so while they could have taken a big step over the weekend, perhaps a 0-0 draw at Philadelphia was them punching above their weight. September will be make or break time for the Impact as the team will play six competitive matches in a span of 20 days. If they hope to advance out of their Champions League group, they’ll likely need to win one of their two remaining games. meaning squad rotation will be prudent through the end of the month.

The Impact will hope to improve their Eastern Conference road record with another away trip to New England on Sunday.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 42 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 35
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Red Bull did exactly what they had to do, downing MLS bottom dwellers D.C. United 2-1 at home Saturday night. With four of their remaining seven matches at home and no Champions League to worry about, if they win their games at Red Bull Arena, they should have no issue making their way to a postseason appearance. What they do with their away games should determine their positioning.

New York faces a six-pointer away to Houston on Sunday. Win and potentially distance yourself from the pack, lose and things will begin to get interesting.

3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WLLWL (6pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 29.9
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Like New York, Sporting KC did the business with a 2-1 win over Colorado Saturday. Already with six points in their two Champions League matches, Sporting likely needs just two points from their remaining matches to win the group and have a lighter league schedule than fell CCLers Montreal and Houston. Two matches with Columbus and one each vs. Toronto and D.C. should see Sporting easily clinch and could help push them towards the top spot by the end of October.

This weekend, Sporting face a Columbus side that lost at home to 10-man Seattle on Saturday, fired their coach Monday and will face Houston at home Wednesday. If the Crew lose to the Dynamo, they’ll be all but eliminated from playoff contention, making KC’s home encounter even easier.

4) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-8-9)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home  / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLDWL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-5 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 33.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: Three points at home Saturday would have seen Philly move to within one of first in the East but a draw against Montreal keeps them all on their lonesome in fourth place. With seven games remaining, the Union have a mixed type of schedule, facing Toronto FC and D.C. in back-to-back weeks in October but also with a games against Houston and Montreal and two matches against Sporting.

A west coast trip to San Jose, where the Earthquakes have dropped just one game this season (8-1-4) looms large this week, with a loss likely pushing the Union back down to the East bubble.

5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-9-7)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 33.75
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: Perhaps no team controls their own destiny like the Revolution. With eight games left, the Revs has an even split of four home and four away but perhaps more interesting is that five of their next six matches are against Eastern Conference foes that sit in the Top 7 positions. Should they be able to navigate well through those matches, their home and home with Columbus to end the season could be all about positioning.

New England needs to take advantage of Montreal’s poor road form Saturday to climb up the table.

6) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 37 (10-8-7)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLWLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21, 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Much like New England, Houston faces a number of teams they’re battling for playoff positioning with over the next month and like Montreal and Sporting KC, also need to balance Champions League play. The Dynamo will be favorites to take three points on the road at Columbus Wednesday but will close out a seven game/22-day stretch at home Saturday to New York. Houston holds fate in their own hands but balancing Champions League with games against conference foes will be the key to their postseason push.

Simple enough: Win at home, draw on the road, they should be in.

7) Chicago Fire

Current Points: 35 (10-10-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (3 home / 6 away)
Last 5 Games: DWLWW (10pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-2 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 31.7
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: Sunday’s late 1-1 draw at home to Houston was no doubt a gut punch but the Fire are far from out of the playoff race.

The Good News: The team continues to have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the East with two games against Toronto and one each against Columbus and D.C.

The Bad News: Only three of nine remaining matches are at home and the Fire’s road record is towards the bottom in the conference.

And even though the Fire have never beaten Seattle and failed to win on turf since 2010, they have a real chance to take three points away to the Sounders with the home side missing Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, Leo Gonzalez on Saturday night.

Four to six points in the team’s next two away matches (remember Toronto FC on September 11) will set them up well for a return home vs. New England on September 14. Twice this season the Fire have had the chance to leap into fifth place and failed, mid-September should be a target date for them to AT LEAST be there.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-13-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LLWWL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-5-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 53
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: If Sunday’s draw to Houston was a gut punch for the Fire, I’m not sure what to call the Crew’s 1-0 home defeat to 10-man Seattle on Saturday.

Still, Columbus have a small shot at the playoffs and their coaching change Monday makes things a bit more interesting. Keep in mind that seven of their eight remaining matches come against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture but should they lose midweek to Houston, the weekend trip to Sporting KC could kill whatever hope they have left.

28 August 2:39 pm

With the Eastern Conference playoff race so tight between seven teams, some called me crazy for starting Playoff Math so early this year. I shunned the criticism because I feel strongly that Eastern Conference nerds need their fix the remaining two months of the season.

In an attempt to keep this piece at readable length, I chose not to use a points per game basis as fellow stat nerd Tweed Thornton at Hot Time in Old Town uses. His analysis is equally interesting and I suggest you check it out.

So, with that, I breakdown the playoff outlook for the eight teams that still have a reasonable shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot…

Montreal Impact
Current Points: 41 (12-7-5)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home/ 6 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-2
Maximum Possible Pts: 71
Average Opponents Pts: 34.4
Remaining Schedule:  8/31 @ PHI, 9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Though they had a small dip in form, Montreal is back at the top of the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s 5-0 shellacking of Houston. Much of Montreal’s success can be chalked up to their dominant home record (they’ve lost just one game at Stade Saputo this season) but the team also has the toughest remaining schedule and has away matches against playoff contenders, Philadelphia, New England, the Fire and Houston before season’s end. Add to that the fact that Montreal is also competing in CONCACAF Champions League play on September 17 at San Jose and September 24 at Heredia and the top spot is far from secure.

New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining:  8 (5 home / 3 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.3
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. D.C., 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Despite a 3-2 defeat to Chivas USA at the weekend, Red Bull still sits in pretty good shape, two points back of the lead. New York holds a strong home record and of their eight remaining matches, five will be played at Red Bull Arena. Also unlike fellow playoff contenders Montreal, Sporting KC and Houston, New York only needs to focus on MLS Regular Season play the rest of the way.

Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (11-9-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 30.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. COL, 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC holds an identical record to New York and has to juggle two more Champions League games but has one of the easiest remaining schedules among the eight playoff contenders. Though their home record isn’t as stellar as you’d think, with the strong atmosphere Sporting Park provides, its unlikely KC is the team currently inside the bubble that falls down the stretch.

Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 38 (10-8-8)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home  / 4 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-4 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 33.1
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. MTL, 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: With eight games left, the Union sit just three points out of first place thanks to the 4-5-4 record on the road (second best in the East) while holding serve at home (6-3-4). Things just got pretty interesting for Philly after New England’s 5-1 weekend thrashing of the Union pulled the playoff race much tighter. From a Fire perspective, their grounded out, back-to-back wins over the Men in Red in May could easily be pointed to as the difference between being in and outside the playoff bubble. If the Fire take three points in either of the 1-0 losses, the two teams are swapped in the Eastern Conference table…

New England Revolution
Current Points: 36 (10-9-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-3
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 31.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/30 @ TFC, 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England has been the surprise entrant into the race this season. The Revs have certainly found ways to punch way above their weight. Even after a six-game winless run in July and August, New England still find themselves inside the bubble with seven of their nine remaining games all against relevant Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 36 (10-8-6)
Games Remaining: 10 (5 home / 5 away)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Pts: 33
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 @ CHI, 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21 vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Though not quite as great as 2012, Houston has kept up pretty good form at BBVA Compass Stadium so far in 2013. The Dynamo sit sixth only by the Goals For tiebreaker and currently hold at least a game in hand on everyone in front of them except for Montreal. At the same time, a loss to the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park would see the Men in Red leapfrog the Dynamo into sixth place with nine matches remaining.

Chicago Fire
Current Points: 34 (10-10-4)
Games Remaining: 10 (4 home / 6 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-1 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 31.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/1 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: After failing to win a game in the month of March, the Fire’s 8-3-3 record since the arrivals of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee in late May is nothing short of fantastic. Having said that, the team still finds itself two points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Much of the team’s success is due to holding the second best home record in the Eastern Conference (8-4-1) though the side’s away record is also the second worst (2-6-3). Perhaps worse though is that after Sunday’s game vs. Houston, the team will play just three more home matches in 2013 vs. six away games.

The key to any team making the playoffs is doing the business at home and the Fire should still aim for the maximum 12 points available there. However, in order to make the postseason again in 2013, the team needs to find ways to pick up more points on the road. Luckily they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference and visit both Toronto FC and D.C. in two of their remaining six away games.

Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-12-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-4-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 33.5
Remaining Schedule: 8/31 vs. SEA, 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Crew are here because though it doesn’t seem likely, they’re still in the playoff race. In my opinion, the key for Columbus is how they do in their next two matches, both of which are at home. A win over Western Conference foes Seattle won’t be considered a “six pointer” but it will keep the Crew alive for another important midweek home date vs. Houston.

12 August 8:56 am

In the 87th minute on Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Fire were holding on to a 2-1 lead against Montreal, who were seven points and two playoff positions ahead in the table. Daniel Paladini, who had come on for Alex 25 minutes earlier, set up to take a corner, but there were just two Fire players forward against six or so in blue. Jeff Larentowicz and Quincy Amarikwa were moving around, doing their best to make space, but this was all about the chance to have the ball deep in Montreal’s half and relieve some pressure.

BTL: The Production

Paladini saw Amarikwa a half yard away from his marker at the penalty spot and floated a ball in towards him. Judging from how the ball arrived to Amarikwa at about the height of Montreal center back Hassoun Camara, and considering Camara’s listed at 6-2 and Amarikwa at 5-9, the Fire forward’s insanely acrobatic bicycle attempt got his feet up to a half-foot above his own head.

Even though Amarikwa whiffed, it was one of those athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic moments that can define a soccer game because generally, the team that comes out the most athletic, confident, creative, and opportunistic is going to win the games. (Also, Amarikwa made up for the whiff by converting an equally impressive bike in the reserve match on Sunday morning.) It said more, too, that it was a substitute that was making this sort of tone-setting play.

Amarikwa has impressed Fire fans in his cameos this season because of his work rate, willingness to take defenders on, and his creative spontaneity on the ball (even if that means sometimes he holds onto it for a bit too long). Those were exactly the traits the Fire needed to get maximum points at home on Saturday, a critical result that leaves the team now just two points out of a playoff spot. Even though he didn’t have the impact on the game, Amarikwa's work was symbolic of that of the whole team.

In the third game in eight days, with Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe day-to-day, Patrick Nyarko out, Dilly Duka picking up a new knock every game, new DP Juan Luis Anangono acclimating to MLS, Logan Pause coming back from injury, and the pressure for points greater than it’s been all season following Wednesday’s Open Cup exit, the Fire came out on Saturday with a new look to them.

BTL: Fire 2.0 earns key point in Houston

As two deeper lying midfielders, Pause and Larentowicz haven’t found their rhythm together this season, but this time Frank Klopas put them out with Alex (who took the spot when Pause got injured) pushed forward with Anangono. The wide players were the same (Joel Lindpere and Duka), but the seemingly minor adjustment of adding Pause and pushing Alex farther forward actually provided the Fire the first fresh tactical look seen since the spring.

And it was a solid system, too, because it morphed from a 4-5-1 with Alex dropping deeper during periods of Montreal possession, into the usual Fire 4-4-2 when the Fire won the ball, with Alex pushing on into space with Anangono. They worked well together on certain fast breaks; Anangono showed that he’s not afraid to make lung-busting runs to clear out space for others. But as much as the system provided some necessary defensive support without sacrificing the slingshot counterattacking Klopas loves, the game was always going to be decided by the players stepping up into the spaces left by Nyarko, Magee, and Rolfe.

Klopas couldn't have asked for a better response from Lindpere and Duka, the two creative wide players who have fought for their playing time all season, and who scored the two goals. They took their chances (and a bit of luck), but they also held the ball, moved the team forward, tracked back, and generally kept the pace of the game far above the revolting one we saw on Wednesday night.

Saturday night showed the Fire’s depth and flexibility in personnel, tactics, and mindset, and it was Amarikwa’s bike that showed the Fire’s potential for style and spontaneity. If this team is going to complete this massive comeback into playoff contention, it’s as much the creativity as it is the grit that’s going to take them there and it’ll have to come not just from the superstars and leaders, but from everyone on the team. 

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