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New England Revolution

09 September 8:43 am

Saturday night didn’t feel good. A strong Fire performance in always difficult atmosphere at Century Link Field certainly left me feeling like the team had done enough to take something away from Seattle. In the end, that wasn’t to be.

With the 2-1 loss, Fire hearts looked at three very big matches Sunday involving Houston, New England and Philadelphia, maybe lit a candle, said a prayer or crossed fingers. That sound you heard round about midnight was a huge sigh of relief as all three teams immediately ahead of the Men in Red in the Eastern Conference playoff race also went down in defeat.

Hence this blog title, as the positioning between the Top 7 in the East remains the same as it was when I wrote the first edition of 2013 Playoff Math two weeks ago, albeit with a bit of a separation between top and bottom.

A breakdown of where things stand heading into this week…

1) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 45 (13-7-6)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home/ 4 away)
Last 5 Games: WDWWL (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 4-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 69
Average Opponents Pts: 35.3
Remaining Schedule:  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: Chronologically, Montreal’s 4-1 win at New England was the second of three needed Fire results Sunday and though the Impact had only won once away to an Eastern opponent this season, showed up in droves early on as Matt Reis’ fifth minute red card for taking down Marco Di Vaio set the tone for the evening in Montreal’s 4-2 win.

With the win, the Impact stayed on top of the Eastern Conference (with two games in hand) and may have helped the Fire more than just in the standings as Reis will now be suspended for the Revolution’s visit to Chicago this Saturday. 

Given Montreal’s home form, a visit from the Crew Saturday should probably see them atop the East by the time I’m writing this column next week. With games in hand on both New York and Sporting KC, the Impact hold the inside track to the top spot in the East if they can hold serve down the stretch.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 45 (13-9-6)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WWLDL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-2-3 / 5-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 36.1
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: The fact that Red Bull had never won in Houston during the MLS regular season didn’t exactly bode well form them on Sunday but a smaller than normal crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium saw a few mistakes at the back which New York did well to capitalize on in their 4-1 win.

Red Bull have just six games left to play with the next two at home vs. Toronto FC and FC Dallas. Wins in those and we’re either talking about them officially clinching a playoff spot or being having the opportunity to do it in Seattle on October 5.

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 go into their bye week coming off a strong 3-0 home win over Columbus Saturday night. Like Montreal, they’ve set themselves up well now to balance their remaining Champions League fixtures (they next play Real Esteli on September 17) and could lock down a playoff spot by the end of September.

4) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-9-9)
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home  / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLDW (5pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-5 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Pts: 34.7
Remaining Schedule: 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: Despite having a man advantage for the final 33 minutes, Philadelphia was unable to muster a point in a 1-0 defeat at San Jose in the Fire’s last needed result of the night.

Philadelphia still sits fourth but only by two points ahead of Saturday’s game vs. Houston, one of two very big matches with playoff implications this week. 

5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-10-7)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LDWWL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-5-3 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 33.4
Remaining Schedule: 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: Like I said above, New England’s 4-2 loss to Montreal helped contribute to everything staying the same towards the bottom of the race. They’ll be without starting goalkeeper Matt Reis in Saturday’s pivotal visit to Toyota Park but will still likely come in confident knowing they’ve won the previous two encounters between the sides this year.

6) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 37 (10-9-7)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LDLWL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-3-3 / 3-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 35.7
Remaining Schedule: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:  It wasn’t a good week for Houston who dropped a 2-0 to Columbus at midweek before Sunday’s 4-1 thumping vs. New York. Given Houston’s recent form (4 points from their last five games), Fire fans will lament the two points dropped to the Dynamo at the beginning of the month but should also be thankful for the fact the Dynamo have continued to struggle following that result.

A loss at Philadelphia next Saturday combined with a win from the Fire or New England may be panic button time for the Dynamo.

7) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 35 (10-11-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (3 home / 5 away)
Last 5 Games: LDWLW (7pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-2 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 32.1
Remaining Schedule: 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:  Dropping three points late in the last two matches doesn’t fill one with confidence but the team’s performance at Seattle was very encouraging and they were perhaps rewarded by Sunday’s trifecta of results. In reality, the weekend was a complete wash in terms of Playoff Math, so the Fire enter a two-game week with a huge opportunity.

The team faces a quick turnaround Wednesday, playing their game in hand on New England and Houston when they visit lowly Toronto FC (who fell 4-0 at Portland Saturday). A win in Ontario followed by one in Saturday’s six-pointer vs. the Revs (and a draw between the Union in Dynamo in Philadelphia) would actually put the Fire into fourth place in the East with six games remaining.

TICKETS: Fire vs. Revolution six-pointer Saturday at Toyota Park

It’s fair to admit no one saw the Fire being in this position following Saturday's game but as they say, that’s why they play the games and there’s all to play for still. 

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 32 (9-14-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (3 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: LWLLW (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 6-5-3 / 3-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 50
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule:  9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: In Brian Bliss’ first game as interim head coach, Columbus took a huge step defeating Houston 2-0 last Wednesday only to fall 3-0 at KC Saturday night.

By virtue of their point total and remaining schedule, the Crew are certainly still in the playoff race but are at a point where any further slip-ups will probably mean the end to their season. 

03 September 9:48 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 3:39 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.

19 August 1:28 pm

Call it Fire 2.0 version 2.a. After the Bakary Soumare/Mike Magee stage of the season (the super hot June, Fire 2.0, back in the playoff race) the closing of the transfer window earlier this month saw two more players - Juan Luis Anangono and Arevalo Rios - come in and now we’re seeing another shift in the team.

New players came just in time too, because injury and fatigue start to necessitate rotation around this time in August. Last week against Montreal, Frank Klopas switched up his tactics to accommodate his newfound depth. The finishing and creativity of Magee and Patrick Nyarko were replaced by the industry and hold up play of Alex and Anangono, in a sort of fusion 4-5-1/4-4-2. That set up worked in part because Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause established a base of control and support in the midfield the whole team could build off, and also because of the way the outside midfielders got forward, Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere scored both goals.

On Saturday night in New England, Klopas went back to his trusted 4-4-2 and plugged in new Uruguayan signing Rios alongside Larentowicz in Alex’s former spot in the center of midfield. In his first MLS game, on turf to boot, Rios showed what we’re getting by breaking up play all over the place and springing a few counter attacks. You can see what Klopas is thinking: Always pushing the team to counter swiftly after winning the ball, Klopas must be licking his lips at the idea of Rios looming around and sending Duka, Magee, Angonono, Amarikwa, and Nyarko off into space behind opposing defenses. This ball didn’t turn into anything, but look at how quickly the Fire can forward with Rios:

But Saturday night the Fire lacked a little bit of rhythm and cohesion and it was clear that Rios and Larentowicz - having trained together, what, three days at most - have some work to do to provide the base of control and support that Larentowicz and Pause provided last week, or the balance of control and distribution that Larentowicz and Alex had during the Fire’s turn-around in June/July.

It’s tempting to think that unlocking the code of the center midfield (Laurentowitz/Pause vs. Laurentowitz/Alex vs. Laurentowitz/Rios vs. something else) will unlock the rest of the Fire season. That’s probably psychological game playing, because as off-rhythm as it may have looked on Saturday, if Magee’s shot off the post in the first half is an inch or two right, or if Duka reads Magee’s pass in the second half, the center midfield issues may well have been buried under more stories of Magee’s magical season.

Credit to New England, too, who played deep and didn’t let Anangono get behind them as much as he’d have liked. But the Fire need a plan for teams that play deep. How will they break them down? On Saturday, the Fire couldn’t adjust offensively, and after taking out Duka and Lindpere, they never had the width or chances they created against Montreal.

All year we’ve loved to break up the season into pieces. There was Fire 1.0, Magee’s Fire 2.0, and now the current iteration. I think we’ve been conceptualizing the season in pieces because we want to see the Fire’s poorer displays as merely symptoms of an old version of the Fire, not a sign of what’s to come. The bugs have been fixed, we want to think, and when we see a run of bad form followed by some good games, we say “thank God, ok, we’re past that”.

We know the Fire have the quality to get into the playoffs but then a game like New England comes and they drop points against a playoff challenger. The psychological game we play to convince ourselves that the best is yet to come gets tougher. And all year, for every step the Fire take forward, they take another one back, only to get up and quickly go forward again.

But the season won’t be decided by one game. The Fire have to regroup and figure out how to accommodate all the new players, get the rest of the team healthy, and push into the playoff race. Fans and commentators have argued all season about which is the real 2013, is it the one that beat Montreal last week or the one that lost to New England on Saturday?

I think the bipolar character of this team might be exactly where its strength comes from, and I saw enough on Saturday to suggest that, yes, the best is still to come. So let’s stick with “Fire 2.0v2a.” Next week it’ll probably be something completely different.

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

17 August 10:23 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, Mass. – August 17, 2013
 
Chicago Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich
 
“I think that as it wore on, [the Revs] found a goal – a long ball, pulled apart in the back – and Juan (Agudelo) made a good play out of it. I need to watch the replay to see if it went over the line. It’s a tough one and they call it, so now we’re chasing the game. It was a little helter-skelter in the end and they get a second one. We hit a post early. Mike (Magee) was in later in the game and speared one to Dilly (Duka) and we just couldn’t tap it in. We had our looks and it’s a tough place to play. At the end of the day, things just didn’t go our way.
 
Any time you bring new guys in, it takes some time. So I think is just a matter of getting to know each other and familiarity and all that type of stuff.
 
We’ll brush it off. There are 11 more games and you can’t get tied up in one game. It’s just unfortunate with the events that happened. It’s silly in some ways, but what are you going to do?
 
I don’t know what happened after the game and like I said earlier, I just don’t think non-players should be making comments to players on the field if that’s the case. I don’t know what I happened from there. It’s not for me to judge that. But I guess the referee judged it. So, it is what it is.  It’s unfortunate, and we’ll more on, brush ourselves off and get ready for the next game.”
 
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson
 
“I thought they finished their opportunities, plain and simple. I thought it was a hard-fought game; (we) just ended up on the wrong side of the result.
 
You saw it, we lost. What more do you want me to say? Push and score a goal. It happens.”
 
Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
 
“It was difficult. I think that the second half for us was a bit better. We were able to pressure more in the midfield. In the first half they had a lot of time. But that said, I don’t think they had a lot of chances in the first half. I think that as the game got stretched, as we pushed more guys forward, they got a second goal. For us it was a tough game, but we try and move forward.
 
It was tough. This was a big game. We were sitting right on top of the Revs before the game and now they leapfrog over us, so we’re hoping to continue to push to get into that playoff spot. We’re getting to a point in the year where they are running out of games. So whether it’s at home or on the road, we want to get points and tonight we let this one slip.
 
It’s always fun [playing against your former team.] You get to see familiar faces and play in the old stadium, but that all kind of goes out the window once the whistle blows and things get going. After the game you shake hands. It was good. I would have liked to have won, but that’s what happens.”
 
New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps
 
“I thought it was a pretty hard-fought match, but we came out with the right mentality. We certainly changed the lineup from our last couple games. I thought the guys that got in tonight did an excellent job.
 
It’s a little bit feel, it’s a little bit going over a lot of film and just seeing where we might need an uptick in certain areas. I thought Matt (Reis) has been training really well and pushing Bobby (Shuttleworth) and Bobby’s played great all year. It’s a great little competition, but sometimes when guys are pushing in training – to reward and give an opportunity, I thought Matt earned it.
 
With Juan (Agudelo) coming back – he wanted to come back last week, but we had to listen to our medical staff because he had a knee injury and we wanted to be smart. For me, Juan has a really good presence up there. He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous when he holds it. It’s not just holding it to play it; it’s holding it to get people in and then giving it up. So for me, he gives players like Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn (Rowe) a little bit more time to find the gaps, and Diego (Fagundez) as well. When you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.
 
I think it was the effort from everybody. We were closing down on every opportunity and that’s exactly what we need as a constant. I think when we do that, from Lee to Kelyn to Scott (Caldwell) to Diego when he’s there in there. And Saer (Sene) came in and Chad (Barrett), and when we can limit them, there’s just a little bit more urgency we do a lot better. Then again, I thought A.J. (Soares) did a nice job coming in and was very vocal in training all week and very vocal on the field and we need that.
 
We needed a win. Last week, we were really disappointed with the way the game went from top to bottom. We were really disappointed with (the loss) to Toronto as well, because we played decent enough to do something in that game. But we didn’t and that was a real kick to our psyche. We needed to rebound. I thought tonight after another loss, you really start asking a lot of guys, and tonight the energy was there. Right from the opening whistle, I felt really good about our chances.
 
To be honest with you I don’t know (what happened after the final whistle). I’ll need to go back and look on film. I know that there were red cards shown to (Bakary) Soumare and Saer Sene. I don’t know what exactly transpired to lead that. It’s two teams going at it and we’ll see it on film, but there was definitely a lot of emotion.
 
It’s funny, we talked a lot about (shutting Mike Magee down) and he still got a shot. That’s how he gets chances. It was a shot deflection and he’s just so elusive inside the box, you just can’t get too close to him. So, for us we talked a lot about where he arrives. He likes to drift, he finds the gaps – he’s really good at that. If we can keep an eye on him, that was the best – I think we did much better in the second half actually, to communicate every step he made. He’d start wide and drift in and go long, so as long as (Andrew) Farrell was communicating that pass on to A.J., it worked well. In the first half, it was a little bit of a breakdown, because Farrell had to come over all the way and he almost had his chance. But that’s what Mike Magee’s been doing. He’s just been lethal when he gets a yard of space and that’s hard to defend.
 
Not much (was different to create chances in the second half.) For me, we talk about possession and where you have good, dangerous possession and there’s a difference. In the weeks before we had center back, center back outside back – that to me is not dangerous. We were at the top of their box moving it from the final third area, not totally in the box. But we had them in the area where you limit counterattacks, you limit anything they’re doing and you’re not so far up the field. It was a good possession and I thought it was a dangerous possession, which makes (Chicago) work harder. In the second half, I thought it was a lot of the same, but we were able to break through.”
 
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis
 
“I think that’s one of the things that I have always been good at throughout my career, whether it’s been in college all the way up until now. Even if I don’t get in a lot of games, there’s not that much of a drop-off when I do get in. It was nice to get back out there. It was great. I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen again, but I was happy to help the team. It was a big game for us. We really needed the points, and we came out and did everything we needed to do.
 
We really want to make it tough [for other teams] to play here, and being at home, we should be getting three points every time we play at home. I feel like if we can do that – if we can win out our games at home – we’ll put ourselves in a great chance to make the playoffs.
 
I thought as a team, we did a great job. We weathered the storm a little bit. We knew they were going to come out and really pressure us, which we did and then we were able to control the game from then on out. The guys did a great job and we broke them down. It took a while – we knew it was going to take a while, but we were persistent and finally got what we needed.
 
I think I have been doing this for long enough that the nerves are there, but it’s the excitement. You never know when it’s going to be your last game, you never know. You always got to enjoy getting out there. It was a lot of fun.
 
[Getting the start] felt good. I heard [I would be starting] I think it was Thursday or so. [The coaches] just asked if I was ready to play and I said ‘Yeah.’
 
Yeah, [Juan Agudelo’s goal] was a great goal, and that’s what he brings. He brings that little bit that you need. You can see why the premier leagues are asking for him.
 
[Juan Agudelo] does all the things well. He holds the ball up well, he gets behind well, takes people on. He’s got the complete package.
 
It’s one game. We are going to have to look at it, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well and move on.
 
I thought [the back line] did well. We were saying before, they had a few chances in the beginning and then not too many throughout the rest of the game. We were organized. The chances that they did get were not spectacular chances. I thought we did great.”
 
New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies
 
“I’m glad that we got the three points. That’s the most important thing. Am I happy with my play? Absolutely not. But it’s good to get the junk out of my system now, before we start getting into tougher situations. Just getting out there felt great. This is a team where I think I’ll really be put in a position to succeed. The midfielders create a lot of space for the forwards and provide great chances and great service, so I’m psyched. I’m psyched for the games ahead and once I get my feet back under me after the craziest two weeks, three weeks. I think things will go much better than they had today.
 
I expected to come on. Once you get the actual ‘you’re going in,’ (I felt) just sheer excitement. I’m so happy to be back. I’m so happy to be part of this team and this organization that I’ve grown up watching and it’s an exciting time. It’s 10 games left now and the playoffs are on the horizon if we continue to play like we did today. I was also very impressed with the way we played today. The way we were able to control the ball in their half and keep possession and keep moving it. I think that is a great sign of how far soccer has come in MLS – just in the two years I’ve been gone or year and a half or so. Teams are starting to understand how to keep the ball and how to keep the defense moving even if you can’t break them down. I’m excited to be a part of this team.
 
I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a perfect time to come on. They’re going to be pushing forward and they’re going to leave so much space open,’ and they did. I was just unlucky not to finish my chances but they’ll come. As a striker, it has to go in and out if it doesn’t work out for you.
 
It depends how much time you get with the guys [to learn a new system.] I’m just taking it game by game and we’ll see what happens. I think fairly quickly, I’ll be able to be on the same page as these guys. I think it’s just a matter of timing at this point. A lot of the guys know how I play, which is great. I think soon enough it will click.
 
It’s amazing (to play soccer in New England again.) I’ve grown up here, played soccer here for 18 years. There’s so many people that I’ve played with or against here in New England and have come to support me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I feel like I’m on the last hurdle; the last step before I can get back to where I was before the accident. I think I’m very close to crossing that finish line and that’s why I came here, because it’s a perfect opportunity for me to play with players like this, to cross the finish line.
 
(My fitness is) alright. Obviously, with more minutes, the better it’ll get, so there’s still 10 games left. Soon enough I’ll be 90-minutes fit and then it’s just a matter of finishing your chances and getting the opportunity.
 
As long as you capitalize on your chances and take advantage of your opportunity, you’re going to play. That’s all I have to focus on and I’m just glad there’s competition here, because it pushes people and it’ll only make the team better.
 
My brother, who’s like my best friend and just a lot of friends (were at the match.) Unfortunately, the families don’t make it out till next week. I guess that’s a good thing. You know, get the bad game out of the way and then for the next game, I’ll be ready.
 
I don’t feel pressure from anyone else except for myself. I put all the pressure on myself – I’ve always done that. I’ve kind of come in here with the idea of playing a lot, helping this team win and putting all the pressure on myself to be the guy that the team can lean on and depend on to grind out results, to make it happen, to get this team to the playoffs. We’ll see how each game goes and step-by-step I think I’ll get there.
 
Yeah, a little bit (of nerves stepping onto the field.) First time in a while but, that’s a good feeling.”
16 August 8:31 am

The Fire head east for another six pointer Saturday night, facing a slumping New England Revolution squad in Foxboro. Despite being without key players Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, the Men in Red beat Montreal at home last weekend. The Revs got handily beaten 3-0 in KC and are 0-2 in the month of August.

Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

The Magee/Anangonó partnership – how will it fare?

With Chris Rolfe not training this week and Mike Magee back, it appears the Fire will start with Magee and new DP striker Juan Luis Anangonó up front on the turf against New England.

The U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat is the only time both players have been on the pitch together and it will be interesting to see how they combine against a New England team that has given up the second least amount of goals in the East.

Anangonó is very mobile for a target forward and is capable of dropping deep, something that Magee is also comfortable doing. On the turf, it will be important to keep the ball on the ground and retaining possession will also be key and I believe it will be up to both Magee and Anangonó to get other players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere involved in the attack.

Any new strike partnership takes time to gel, but I look for Magee and Anangonó to not stray too far from each other and be heavily involved Saturday night.

The Rios/Larentowicz partnership – another potential central midfield pairing

WATCH:  Lindpere, Larentowicz preview Revolution

Last weekend, we saw the return of Logan Pause, partnering Jeff Larentowicz in the middle and allowing the Ginger Ninja to get forward and support the attack.

This week, we could see a debut for Uruguayan midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, assumingly partnering the former New England man in the center of the park.

Most observers see Rios as a tough tackling midfielder who breaks up opposition attacks. This is certainly the case, but like Larentowicz, the Uruguayan also likes to get forward.

What will surprise some teams and even some Fire fans is Rios’s willingness to get forward when possible. Though he won’t score many goals (he had five in 53 matches last season) Rios will certainly start quite a few attacks from breaking up play in  the opposition’s half, something we’ve seen Patrick Nyarko do a lot of this season.  

What will be very important on Saturday night is that both players must know where the other is and not have a situation where they’re caught too high up the field. Communication and discipline from both players will be important, but I have no worries considering the wealth of experience the duo possesses.

New England’s Attack – who will get the start on Saturday night?

When people look at the Revs attack, Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene immediately spring to mind. In addition, New England have a couple of American strikers that have the ability to change games, namely Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies.

Agudelo is back to fitness after missing the last eight matches and is a familiar foe for the Fire, scoring in a 4-1 defeat by Chivas USA at Toyota Park back in March. He scored three goals in five games for the Revs before being injured and is certainly a threat.

Davies is looking to get his career back on track with the Revs and has a point to prove in MLS but he hasn’t played a competitive match in a few months.

With the addition of the former U.S. international, the Revs have excellent strength in depth at the forward position and have the luxury of bringing on high quality strikers if need be.

I touched on this issue when the Fire played Philly back to back earlier this season and it will be important that the team is prepared to change midway through the game and adjust to whoever comes off the bench. All four strikers bring different qualities and it will be important for the Frank Klopas to adjust his side accordingly.

Prediction: With so many question marks about who will start and new partnerships on the field, this game is very difficult to predict. I am going with 1-0 Fire (first clean sheet in two months!) with a goal from Juan Luis Anangonó.

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

20 June 10:39 am

Earlier Thursday morning I was once again invited back to U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters in downtown Chicago to witness the semifinal round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup coin flips.

Let me be honest, unlike the previous three rounds, Thursday's process was the simplest I've witnessed.

That's because even before showing up at Soccer House on Thursday morning, U.S. Soccer had already confirmed what the potential semifinal pairings would be earlier this week based on geography.

Combine that with all eight quarterfinal teams applying to host the semifinals, literally all that was needed was to flip the famous bicentennial silver dollar twice.

Still, Competition Secretary Paul Marstaller kept things official, handing out the same formatted paper which clearly listed the matchups and assigned heads and tails.

That sheet looked like this:

Heads Tails
D.C. United/New England Revolution Chicago Fire/Orlando City*
Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks* Portland Timbers/FC Dallas

If I can be bold enough to say, every time the Fire have come up in a coin flip, I honestly get this strange excitement in my stomach. The feeling of a simple coin going a long way to deciding your team's tournament fate is a thrilling, if not brief emotion.

TICKETS: Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City Quarterfinal on June 26

Luckily for the Fire, the first coin flip landed tails, meaning the winner of next Wednesday's game vs. Orlando City will host the winnder of D.C. United/New England on August 7. This is the third straight flip the Fire have won after losing the initial third round flip to the Charlotte Eagles.

In the second flip, the coin came up heads, meaning the winner of Real Salt Lake/Carolina RailHawks will host the winner of Portland/FC Dallas. The flip was the fourth consecutive win for RSL in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup.

And that was it.

Only one coin flip remains and that's for the final which will be played in early October. I'm told that will go down at some point in July.

All intentions to host the final were due along with intentions for the semifinal on Wednesday, though U.S. Soccer will likely not make that list public until the final coin flips occur.

I can confirm the Chicago Fire have applied to host the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final.

Earlier 2013 Open Cup Coin Flips:

- Quarterfinals
- Fourth Round
- Third Round

05 June 1:15 pm

The potential quarterfinal pairings for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup set to be played Wednesday, June 26:

1) Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew winner hosts Sporting Kansas City/Orlando City winner

2) D.C. United/Philadelphia Union winner hosts New England Revolution/New York Red Bulls winner

3) FC Dallas/Houston Dynamo winner hosts Portland Timbers/Tampa Bay Rowdies winner

4) Real Salt Lake/Charleston Battery winner hosts Carolina RailHawks/Chivas USA winner

Click Here to buy tickets for the Fire's Fourth Round USOC match vs. the Columbus Crew (Wednesday June 12th, 7:30pm Toyota Park)

22 May 11:23 am

Should the Chicago Fire come away victorious over the Charlotte Eagles in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup next Wednesday, the team is guaranteed to host its fourth round match against either the Columbus Crew or Dayton Dutch Lions on Wednesday, June 12 at Toyota Park.

I'll have a full play-by-play of the draw later today on Chicago-Fire but until then, see below all fourth round U.S. Open Cup matchups:

#1 – New England Revolution/Rochester Rhinos hosts Reading United AC/New York Red Bulls winner
 
#2 – D.C. United/Richmond Kickers winner hosts Ocean City Nor’easters/Philadelphia Union winner
 
#3 Chicago Fire hosts Dayton Dutch Lions/Columbus Crew winner
                -or- Columbus Crew host Charlotte Eagles
                -or- Dayton Dutch Lions host Charlotte Eagles
 
#4 – Sporting KC host Colorado Rapids/Orlando City winner
                -or- Colorado Rapids/Orlando City hosts Des Moines Menace
 
#5 – FC Dallas hosts FC Tucson/Houston Dynamo winner
                -or- Houston Dynamo hosts Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
                -or- Ft. Lauderdale Strikers vs. FC Tucson (Host TBD)
 
#6 – LA Galaxy/Carolina Railhawks winner hosts Chivas USA/LA Blues winner
 
#7 – Atlanta Silverbacks/Real Salt Lake winner hosts San Jose Earthquakes/Charleston Battery winner
 
#8 – Seattle Sounders will host Wilmington Hammerheads/Portland Timbers winner
                -or- Portland Timbers will host Tampa Bay Rowdies
                -or- Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (Host TBD)