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15 October 10:01 am

A lot has changed since my last Playoff Math entry. The team had just come off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Sporting KC while almost no other result in the East had gone the Fire’s way that weekend.  The team would follow the loss to KC up with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Philadelphia on Anniversary  Night before earning a solid 2-0 win at New York three days later.

It all goes to show that Playoff Math isn’t always foolproof but a good read nonetheless. With that here’s the latest update, also recognizing the field in the East is down to six teams with Montreal’s elimination last week…

1) Sporting KC (qualified)
Current Points: 59 (40 GF)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 44.5
Magic Number (for first place): 4
Remaining Schedule:  at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Sporting KC took a potential blow to their first place bid by leaving two points on the field late at Crew Stadium last Sunday. KC still has the inside track to finishing top of the conference for the second straight season but will have to navigate a tricky match at Red Bull this week to get there. If they can earn another win in New York, they’’ all but clinch the top spot in the East, then needing only a win the following Wednesday home to Philadelphia.

2) Chicago Fire (qualified)
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)

Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points:  41. 5
Magic Number (to first place): 9
Remaining Schedule:   at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

The Rundown: Despite falling in two of the last three matches, the Fire are in the playoffs and still find themselves with a reasonable shot at taking first in the East with the Sporting/Red Bull match looming this weekend. If Red Bull is able to win and the Fire can come away from New England victorious as well on Saturday, they’ll be even on points with first place Kansas City and actually ahead on the first tie breaker (goals for).

That scenario would almost assuredly just require a Fire win on the final of the season vs. DC United to lock down first place (Sporting KC would have make up 6+ goals on Philadelphia in order to jump over the Fire.

More incentive to keep in mind… Should the Fire win their final two games, they’ll at least finish third overall in the MLS standings, giving them a real shot at the CONCACAF Champions League should either Sporting KC or San Jose make MLS Cup.

3) D.C. United
Current Points: 54
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 52.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 2
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: D.C. has the most difficult remaining schedule of the group but with them hosting sixth-place Columbus Saturday, can step into the playoffs with just a draw Saturday against the Crew.  With United facing the Fire on the final day of the season, D.C. has plenty of incentive to go for wins in both games in order to possibly finish with home field advantage in the first round. Should the Fire and Sporting KC completely collapse the Capital City club even has an outside shot at first in the East.  

4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Average Opponents Points: 47.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 3
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: New York’s form the last four games combined with front office shake ups and chatter about head coach Hans Backe’s status for next year can’t fill a Red Bull fan full of confidence. Still, they control their own playoff destiny and can qualify as well as play spoiler this weekend with a win at home vs. Sporting KC.

With the Red Bulls going 10-0-3 through their first 13 matches this season at Red Bull Arena, both Sporting and the Fire found the chink in the armor there in recent weeks. Even still, New York remains 11-2-3 at home this year and shouldn’t be underestimated with their backs a bit against the wall on Saturday.

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Points: 33.5
Magic Number: 6
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Despite having a reasonably easy schedule to close the 2012 campaign, Houston has made things sort of difficult on themselves down the stretch, going 1-1-1 in their last three matches all against sides outside of the playoff picture. Luckily, they still have the easiest schedule of all remaining playoff teams, hosting Philadelphia this weekend before visiting Colorado on the 27th.

With that high-altitude trip looming on the final day, the Dynamo would do well to take care of business Saturday against the Union where a win would necessitate just a draw on at the Rapids. A win Saturday combined with a Crew loss at DC would push Houston back into the playoffs for the second straight season.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Points: 38
Magic Number: 8
Remaining Schedule: at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28)

The Rundown: Another late goal last Sunday at home vs. Sporting KC likely salvaged the Crew’s season, keeping the team within one point of fifth place Houston heading into a harrowing six-pointer Saturday at DC.

A victory keeps the team in the playoff hunt heading into the last match of the season, a very winnable home game vs. Toronto. A win plus a Houston draw or loss puts the Crew in the driver’s seat. They’ve played with nothing to lose since August, no reason they should stop now.

From a traveling fan perspective, all of Fire nation should want the Crew to sneak into the playoffs and the Fire to have a chance at them in the first round. 

This Week's Predictions:
New York Red Bulls 2, Sporting KC 1 
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0
D.C. United 1, Columbus Crew 1
Houston Dynamo 2, Philadelphia Union 1

If those hold true the standings coming out of the weekend would be...

1) x-Chicago - 59pts. (47 GF)
2) x-Sporting KC - 59pts. (41 GF)
3) x-New York - 56pts. (56 GF)
4) x-D.C. United - 55pts. (50 GF)
5) Houston - 53pts. (47 GF)
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6) Columbus - 50pts. (41 GF)

Let's hope I'm right!

03 October 8:46 am

After a tough loss on Friday night in Kansas City, the Fire are looking to get back into the race for first place in the Eastern Conference when they face the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park on Wednesday night. Philly are also coming into the game on the back of a loss, going down 3-2 in Columbus last weekend. Though the Union are out of the Playoff race, they will be looking to play spoiler and stop the Fire from moving into second in the standings.

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

Combination plays: Stopping Philly from playing their game

After John Hackworth took over head coach halfway through this season, he has tried to get the Union away from the long ball game if possible and move towards keeping the ball on the ground and moving forward through short, quick, pass combinations.

In the first 60 minutes against the Columbus Crew last weekend, Philly worked this to perfection, gliding through the Columbus midfield on many occasions by moving well off the ball and limiting the amount of touches taken. Even though they were the away team, they enjoyed a lot of possession but for all of their pretty play, they created only a few chances. It was only when they got the wide men in behind did they cause any real damage.

WATCH: Matko's Take on Philadelphia

 

Against the Chicago Wednesday night I can see coach Hackworth deploying the same tactic but it will be up to the Fire to disrupt this as much as possible by trying to impose their game of high pressure, something that was missing against Kansas City Friday. The more the Fire can force Philly into kicking it long, the more it will take them away from their possession-based game plan.

Stopping the super sub: Antoine Hoppenot

Rookie Antoine Hoppenot has been the Union's go-to-guy when the team is looking for a spark in the attack this season. He is clearly more comfortable coming off the bench and single handily turned last week's game against Columbus in the Union's favor after coming off the bench by allowing Philadelphia to play more direct.

Hoppenot is a defender’s nightmare -- a player who is always on the shoulder of the last man and never stops pressuring the back line when he enters the game. He took full advantage against a tired Columbus defense last week, earning a penalty kick and making some brilliant runs in behind the defense. He especially likes to make runs behind the outside defenders, something the Fire were guilty of allowing Kansas City to do too often last week.

When the French striker inventively makes his appearance from the subs bench Wednesday, the Fire cannot allow him to influence the game as he did last weekend.

Fire attack: getting Fernandez more involved 

Though the Fire sat back for the most part on Friday and looked for balls to be played up to Sherjill MacDonald, the team did find some success when “Flaco” Fernandez was able to get forward and support the more advanced players.

Due to Pavel Pardo's injury, Alex has been playing in a much deeper role and must put his defensive duties ahead of his desire to support the attack. Alex's new role has also put more emphasis on Flaco Fernandez to help out in the attack as much as possible. When he did go forward against Kansas City, it resulted in some of the Fire's best chances.

Playing back at home, I expect the Fire to be much more adventurous in attack and this will mean that Fernandez will be given more license to get forward than he was against KC where he was forced to track back for a lot of the game. Fernandez has found himself in some brilliant positions this season, and if not for some lackluster finishing, he would easily have double the amount of goals he already has for the Fire. His forays forward could be the difference against the Union on Wednesday night.

Left back: A familiar face returns

Friday night’s red card to Gonzalo Segares means we will almost certainly see fan favorite Dan Gargan back in the starting lineup for the first time in 11 matches. Gargan is the first sub off the bench if anyone on the back line is injured and the team has relied heavily on his versatility, especially with the many injuries to Fire defenders this season.

That being said, the Fire have been quite lucky to avoid injuries to the back line in recent months and the team's discipline has been excellent this season with minimal suspensions. All of this means that Gargan has started in 17 games this season but none since late July at San Jose. Getting him minutes is very important, especially heading towards the playoffs where the format is longer, meaning a greater chance of someone picking up an injury or suspension.

We all know about Gargan's defensive abilities but against the Union at home, he will be encouraged to push forward and contribute to the attack. How well he combines with the Fire's left winger (assumed to be Patrick Nyarko) will be important. A good performance by Gargan Wednesday would also make a statement to coach Frank Klopas of Gargan's intent to win back a starting place as we enter the most important stretch of the season.

Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Fernandez.

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

30 September 7:42 am

A 2-0 defeat at Sporting KC Friday; Red Bull defeat Toronto FC 4-1; Columbus takes advantage of an offside goal to earn another late win; The Dynamo overpower New England 2-0…

The Chicago Fire were about 11 minutes from having literally every result this weekend go against them before Portland’s Bright Dike roofed an effort past Bill Hamid to earn the Timbers a 1-1 home draw against D.C. United.

That result in Portland combined with the other four this weekend pushed the Fire down to third place (tied on points with New York) and just five points ahead of the sixth-place Crew with four matches remaining and just as many openings in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

HISTORICAL ANALYSIS

Fire and many other fans in the East deserve to be a little frustrated. The past few seasons it didn’t take this much to qualify for the playoffs.

Even with most teams having three to four games left in the season, total wins in the East are currently at 122, up from 88 which was the total through the end of 2011. Playoff team wins (or translated to last year, Top 5 team wins) total in at 76 right now over 59 through the end of 2011. More simply put, it took fifth place New York just 46 points to qualify for the postseason last year, while this year sixth place Columbus sits on 48 points and outside of the current playoff bubble.

WATCH:  Sporting KC 2, Chicago Fire 0

 

Make no mistake, all five teams that make it from the East will have earned it this season…

PLAYOFF MATH…I’ve added magic numbers to the breakdown this week. For a definition on what the magic number is in soccer, click here.

1) Sporting KC (qualified)
Current Points: 58
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 43.6
Magic Number (for first place): 8
Remaining Schedule:  at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Sporting KC navigated their difficult stretch of three games in nine days about as perfectly as they could have expected. The team earned a valuable 2-0 win at New York on September 19, played strategically for a point at Montreal three days later and returned home on Friday to defeat the Fire, taking seven points from the three matches.

WATCH: New York Red Bulls 4, Toronto FC 1

 

The victory over Chicago on Friday not only opened up a somewhat comfortable five-point gap between first and second but also pushed KC back into the playoffs. They still have two tough games at Columbus who are 10-3-2 at home this season and fighting for their playoff lives and a trip back to New York, but if they can negotiate that two-game stretch as well as the three games before it, they shouldn’t have an issue finishing in poll-position in the East.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53 (tied with Fire, ahead on Goals For tiebreaker)
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 47
Magic Number (playoffs): 5
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: New York did what they needed to in taking a 4-1 victory over Toronto Saturday night. They face perhaps the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the East, having to face both the Fire and Sporting KC, albeit at home, in back-to-back matches. The results of those two games will go a long towards determining where all three teams will finish.

How they qualify: Red Bull can qualify for the playoffs this week by defeating the Fire and having Columbus either lose or draw to Sporting KC (Sunday) or Houston lose to Montreal (Saturday).

3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 53 (tied with New York)
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points:  40.75
Magic Number: 5
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

The Rundown: While it wasn’t what you wanted, there was nothing disastrous about Friday night’s result at Kansas City. One thing to remember is that the Fire hold a game in hand over everyone else in the playoff race and that game is made up this week with Wednesday’s clash vs. Philadelphia and Saturday’s match at New York.

If the Fire can manage to take at least four points from the week, they would almost assuredly have booked their place in the postseason and even three points would go a long way toward playoff qualification. Anything less and the team will have made things much more difficult than need be on themselves.

Luckily enough, Wednesday’s game comes against lowly Philadelphia who will be on one day less rest than the Fire and who haven’t beaten any of the top seven teams in the East away from home, going 0-6-0 in those games this season.

WATCH: D.C. United 1, Portland Timbers 1

 

While it’ll be expected for the Fire to take three points against the Union, the more difficult match will come Saturday against Red Bull. If the team gets a win against Philly, a draw would be ok to keep the Fire in position ahead of New York to push for second place in the East.

Keep in mind though, waking up Sunday morning is all the more reason to hope the Fire can earn just one more point than Red Bull as there’s little to no chance the team will win a tie-breaker with the high-flying New York offense.

How they qualify: The Fire can qualify for the playoffs in a variety of ways this week but at the very least need three points from their two matches vs. Philadelphia (Wednesday) and at New York (Saturday), combined with a Columbus loss or draw vs. Sporting KC (Sunday) or a Houston loss vs. Montreal (Saturday). Two wins in the two matches and the rest won’t matter as the Fire will have booked their ticket.

4) D.C. United
Current Points: 51
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 41
Magic Number: 7
Remaining Schedule:  at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: Given that it would have made for a three-way tie for second place, D.C. will be a bit disappointed not to have taken three points at Portland Saturday. Taking care of business at Toronto on Saturday will be most important for United as their final two matches look like they could be of the six-point variety.

How they qualify: They can’t this week. A win at Toronto and a Columbus loss this weekend won’t be good enough to get D.C. into the playoffs before the international break as it would only equal six “magic number” points.

WATCH: Columbus 3, Philadelphia 2

 

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 3 (2 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 58
Average Opponents Points: 33.3
Magic Number: 9
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Houston stumbled last weekend at Philadelphia and had a bit of trouble in the first half Saturday night vs. New England but eventually got the job done. The Dynamo undoubtedly still have the easiest schedule in the East, with their hardest game coming against Montreal on Saturday. The goal of every team ahead of Houston should at least be to finish with more than 58 points as that is the closest thing to a playoff point threshold that exists right now.

How they qualify: Won’t be able to think about qualification until at least October 20.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 48
Games Remaining: 3 (32 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Points: 43.6
Magic Number: 10
Remaining Schedule:   vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28)

The Rundown: The Crew did it again Saturday night, scoring another late winner, albeit one that was clearly offside. That doesn’t matter now as Columbus kept pace in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

The result was huge as the Crew will be facing the East’s top team in Sporting KC on Sunday before a certain six-pointer on October 20 at D.C. United. How they fare in these two games will go a long way to determining where they finish in the East but it seems a minimum of three points from the pair of matches will be absolutely necessary to stay alive going into their final game of the season vs. Toronto FC.

How they qualify: Would need a bit of help but could qualify on October 20.

7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 40
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 49
Average Opponents Points: 32.3
Remaining Schedule: at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Idle this week, Montreal are only mathematically still in. To qualify, they would need a monumental collapse from either Houston or Columbus while the Impact would have to run the table to finish the season. Even a draw at Houston on Saturday will bring their season to an end.

23 September 8:49 am

The Fire and Sporting KC did their part this week to make Friday's showdown at LiveStrong Sporting Park a massive one for the national television audience on NBC Sports Network... Below is a breakdown of the Playoff Math after Saturday's games. On Monday, following today's two matches, I'll have an update, including magic numbers for all team's in the East race.

WATCH: Chicago 2, Columbus 1 (9/22/2012)

 

1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 55
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 43.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Ending a stretch this weekend in which the team played three games in eight days, Sporting manager Peter Vermes did well to manage the scenario and keep his team atop the East with a huge 2-0 win over Red Bull at midweek before playing for a point at Montreal Saturday afternoon.

The decision to go for a draw with the Impact shows Vermes' confidence in his side heading into Friday's all-important six point clash with the Fire. A win for Sporting and they'll open up a five point lead at the top, while a loss would push the Fire into first place by one point, with the Men in Red holding a game in hand.

2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 41.6
Remaining Schedule:  at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

 

 

 

 

 

The Rundown: Fans had all the reason to go into Saturday's game with chewed up finger nails. Sean Johnson's early giveaway that led to the Crew's early goal might have made you loose a bit of hair. In the end, what could have been a bogey game and a missed opportunity for three points just turned into yet another Fire win.

The club is on the brink of its first playoff qualification since 2009 and while going first on Friday is a real thing, they could also potentially clinch a postseason berth if the Crew fall next Saturday night against Philadelphia.

3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 39.2
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

WATCH: New England 1, New York 1 (9/22/2012)

 

The Rundown: Save Montreal who are almost completely out of the playoff race, no one in the East had a worse week than Red Bull. A flat effort at home in midweek against Sporting KC in a match that could have taken them to the top of the East table combined with a gut-wrenching 1-1 draw Saturday at lowly New England leaves New York in a precarious position at the moment.

The good thing is that three of their remaining four matches are at home and two of those are against the Fire and Sporting KC. The bad thing is both D.C. and Houston play Sunday. A win by United over Chivas USA would pull them level with Red Bull on points while a Houston win over Philadelphia would pull them within one. 

4) DC United
Current Points: 47
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 35.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: Not a lot to say about United until they play their match vs. Chivas USA tonight (6pm CT on Galavision). D.C. did well enough to earn three points at Philadelphia at midweek and if they can take advantage of the easier schedule over the next few weeks, they'll be in very good shape for a top three finish, even without DeRo. 

Food for thought: If D.C. were to drop a 4-0 scoreline on Chivas USA at RFK tonight, they would actually move into third place, beating Red Bull on the second tie breaker of Goal Differential...

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule:  at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Same as D.C. above. Houston should be favorites to win all five of their remaining matches, with their toughest opponent being Montreal on October 6. The favorable remaining schedules for both the Dynamo and United should give great caution to Sporting KC, Chicago and New York if they expect to finish in the top three.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 45
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Points: 37.7
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Philadelphia (9/29),  vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).

The Rundown: Again last night, the Crew continue to showed why some should be skeptical about their late-season run as the team hasn't beaten anyone ahead of them lately. For a team trying to climb up the table, dropping points against those above you won't help your cause. With three of four remaining matches at home, Columbus is far from out of the race but can't afford many more slip-ups.

The October 20 game vs. United could be the make or break of their season.

7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 40
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 49
Average Opponents Points: 32.3
Remaining Schedule: at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Just here because of mathematics. Montreal did the Fire and the rest of the East a bit of a favor by earning a 0-0 draw with Sporting KC Saturday but leaving two points on the field at Stade Saputo has really determined the Impact's playoff fate in their expansion season. They'll take next weekend off and the rest of the East will hope they can pull another result at Houston before they finish off the season with games at Toronto and vs. New England. 

20 September 8:57 am

Well, things didn’t go our way last night.

Out East, Sporting KC did what no one else has done this season, using two goals inside the first 20 minutes from C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara to defeat New York at Red Bull Arena 2-0. From the offset, it seemed a game that New York wasn’t quite up for as Sporting dictated the play, much to the visible frustration of Red Bull captain Thierry Henry.

HIGHLIGHTS: SKC 2, NYRB 0 (9/19/2012)

 

 

 

Both teams face a quick turnaround for Saturday as KC (54pts.) heads to Montreal (39pts.) for a matinee kick (12pm CT on MLS Live/Direct Kick) while New York (49pts.) visits New England (6:30pm CT MLS Live/Direct Kick).

A little bit closer to home, Columbus found another late winner, this time an 89th minute strike from substitute Justin Meram to earn a 1-0 victory and a valuable three home points over Chivas USA. The win keeps the East race very tight as the Crew (45pts.) leaped back over D.C. United (44pts.) and into final playoff spot in the East.

All it will take for the Crew to be bumped back down to sixth is a D.C. United draw Thursday night when they visit the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park (7pm CT on ESPN2).

Of course, United is favored and expected to win. If they do, they’ll jump all the way back over Columbus and Houston (46pts.) and into fourth place in the East.

The Positives

- Red Bull has shown they are in fact beatable at home, which is good with the Fire heading there in just over two weeks.

- The Fire maintain second place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on both first place Sporting KC and third place Red Bull.

- Red Bull is just 4-18-5 all-time at New England. In a span that stretches almost exactly 10 years back to the MetroStars era, New York hasn’t won in Foxboro in 15 matches, going 0-11-4 since the streak began on September 21, 2002.

HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 1, CHV 0 (9/19/2012)

 

 

 

- Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza picked up a yellow card and will now be suspended for the team’s game Saturday at Montreal, where the Impact are 10-3-2 this season.

- The Fire hold a game in hand on all but D.C. United.

The Negatives

-  Albeit with a game in hand, Sporting has opened up a four point lead on the Fire for first place in the East. Even if the Fire win Saturday and Sporting loses, the team will still be one point behind KC.

- The Fire are just six points ahead of sixth place in the East, leaving little room for error.

- Houston, D.C. United and Columbus all have much easier schedules than the top three teams, indicating a Top 3 Eastern Conference finish is far from a certainty.

Saturday Schedule
Montreal vs. Sporting KC – 12pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live/TSN)
New England vs. New York – 6:30pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Chicago vs. Columbus – 7:30pm CT (NBC 5.2)

Sunday Schedule
Philadelphia vs. Houston – 3pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live)
D.C. United vs. Chivas USA – 6pm CT (Galavision)

16 September 12:48 pm

Sporting KC just barely rescued first place at the top of the East while the Fire, Red Bulls and United all tightened up the race… An updated breakdown of the week and month and a half a head in this edition of Playoff Math…

WATCH: SKC 1, HOU 1 (9/14/2012)

 

 

 

1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 69
Average Opponents Points: 42.6
Remaining Schedule:  at  New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: By virtue of C.J. Sapong’s late header to equalize with Houston on Friday night, Sporting KC still controls their own destiny for first in the East , if only just barely. The team enters this week with two big away matches, facing third-place Red Bull at midweek and Montreal on Saturday.

Neither game will be easy. With their 3-1 win over Columbus Saturday night, New York moved to 10-0-3 overall at home and a perfect 8-0-0 vs. the Eastern Conference at Red Bull Arena. While those stats are daunting, if Sporting are going to finish first in the East, they’ll likely have to find a way to take four points from this game and their next visit to New York on October 20.  If New York stays consistent and beats another East team at home, they will at least momentarily move to first in the East.

Sporting will then head to a somewhat down-trodden Montreal side whose playoff hopes seem only mathematical at this point. Despite that, the Impact’s home form combined with KC playing on just three days rest, will make this a very difficult game for Sporting.

This could be a week where Sporting puts a stamp on the Eastern Conference lead or gives it up completely…

2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 40.1
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

WATCH: CHI 3, MTL 1 (9/15/2012)

 

 

 

The Rundown: The Fire had a huge week, taking six points at Toronto FC and at home to Montreal Saturday night. In neither match did the team play a complete game but Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that the team is 1) capable of coming back from a deficit to win and 2) can have a bad day and still earn three points and 3) with six wins from their last seven, are the hottest team in Major League Soccer.

With KC drawing the night before and both New York and D.C. winning earlier Saturday, the pressure was certainly on the Fire to get the three points in order to maintain second place in the east. With KC playing New York as well as D.C. playing Philadelphia at midweek, there’s chance the Fire could momentarily fall from that spot and it seems almost certain things will tighter heading into the weekend.

That all matters very little as long as the Fire continue to hold serve at home and defeat a Columbus team on short rest Saturday night to set up a humongous match at Sporting KC the following Friday.

3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 38.1
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: This is also the week in which New York can really make their claim for first in the East. If they can take advantage of their perfect home record vs. the Conference and earn three points on Wednesday vs. KC before doing what’s expected at eighth place New England on the weekend, they’ll find themselves on top.

Taking care of business this week would also be huge as Red Bull will have four matches remaining, three at home and two of those against direct top of the East competitors Chicago and Kansas City in October. It’s also worth nothing that of the top three, Hans Backe’s side has easiest schedules to finish the season as their opponent’s point average equals out to 38.1

4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30
Remaining Schedule:  at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Houston nearly took three points from Kansas City Friday night in a match that many didn’t expect them to take any. While they’ll be disappointed in giving up a late equalizer, the Dynamo by far have the easiest schedule of anyone in the East from here on out, with their five games coming against teams outside of their Conference’s Top five and three games remaining at BBVA Compass Stadium.

It would be a reasonable expectation for the Dynamo to take 12-15 points and really keep themselves in the conversation for a Top 3 spot as the Fire, New York and Kansas City all have matches remaining against each other.

5) DC United
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 32.8
Remaining Schedule:  at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

WATCH: NY 3, CLB 1 (9/15/2012)

 

 

 

The Rundown: No DeRo, no problem. D.C. United found a way to be victorious without their captain in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over New England, effectively leaping over Columbus and into the final playoff spot in the East. Much like Houston, United have a very easy upcoming schedule to make things even tighter in the East as they face the literal bottom four teams in Major League Soccer over their next four games.

The only problem is that three of those four come on the road where United hasn’t been great this season (3-9-0). Nonetheless, if D.C. can take maximum points from the next four, they’ll put themselves not only in a good position to qualify for the playoffs but a chance to finish a bit higher than fifth.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 37
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29),  vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).

The Rundown: In a previous edition of Playoff Math, I said that I wasn’t yet convinced of the Crew’s run up the table because during their four-game winning streak, they’d played three of the worst teams in the East.

A trip to Gillette Stadium caused a somewhat surprising 2-0 loss before the international break and then Saturday night’s visit to Red Bull Arenas saw a less surprising 3-1 defeat for the Crew. The two losses have Columbus now back on the outside looking in.  Though they have two matches over the next seven days just like KC, New York and D.C., it’s safe to say the week ahead could be very telling for the Crew’s playoff chances.

The Crew should expect to defeat Western Conference bottom dwellers Chivas USA at home on Wednesday but their visit to Chicago, will be very difficult as the Fire haven’t fallen to an Eastern Conference team at home since October 12, 2010, going 12-0-5 in that time.

7) Montreal Impact

Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Points: 36.7
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Montreal’s really just run out of game but it doesn’t mean they can’t affect the Eastern Conference playoff race (which they still sort of remain in). The Impact’s home form has had me mark this Saturday’s game vs. Sporting KC as one that really have implications on the top of the East while a point at Houston isn’t completely out of the cards either.

After October 6, Montreal could mathematically be out as they face two other teams that are already that way.

I’m not a huge fan of predictions but I got all the East’s playoff related results correct this weekend so, I’ll go with three midweek predictions…

Midweek Predictions:
Wednesday

New York 2, Sporting KC 1
Columbus 1, Chivas USA 0
Thursday
D.C. United 2, Philadelphia 1

04 September 11:43 am

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog on this subject and while not much has become easier to predict,  at least one thing has become clearer.

Last time, there was a question about Columbus’ ability to make a run towards the playoffs. With that blog written just two days before the Crew began their current four-game winning streak, the question has been answered and their form currently has D.C. United as the current Eastern Conference outsiders. Still, I'm not yet convinced of the Crew's playoff credentials and I break down everyone's playoff hopes below...

WATCH: SKC 2, TFC 1 (9/1/2012)

 

1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 71
Average Opponents Points: 40.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Houston (9/14), at New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: It goes without saying that Sporting KC controls its own destiny for the top spot in the East but two games away to second place New York (the Red Bulls are 9-0-3 at home) combined with a home date against the Fire (who’ve beaten Sporting both games this season) and trips to Montreal (10-3-2 at home) and Columbus (8-3-2 at home) will make finishing top of the East difficult for KC.

Lucky for Peter Vermes’ team, they’ve been the best MLS side on the road this season, going 7-4-2 away from LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. They’re definitely going to be in the playoffs but even with a four point advantage at the top of the East, they could finish as low as third.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 7 (5 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 36.8
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

The Rundown: If they keep their home form, New York is my favorite to finish top of the East. They’re not only undefeated at home this season (9-0-3) but haven’t even drawn with an Eastern Conference foe at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0 this year). Consider that their two remaining away matches are at New England and Philadelphia, you could make a strong case that New York might not lose another game this season.  

Of course playoff implications often turn things on paper upside down and New York does face their two closest competitors in three of their remaining home matches. Basically I’m saying, first in the East is really New York’s for the taking if they want it.

WATCH: CHI 3, HOU 1 (9/2/2012)

 

3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 36.2
Remaining Schedule: at Toronto FC (9/12), vs. Montreal (9/15), vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

The Rundown: As evidenced by the fact that the team jumped from sixth to third with one win Sunday night, the difference from third to six in the East is just three points and the victory over Houston gave the Fire the best odds of teams three through six to make a bid for a top two finish.

Like New York, Frank Klopas’ side has been rather spectacular at home this season, going 9-2-2 overall and 7-0-1 against Eastern Conference opponents. With that current form, it’s a decent expectation that the Fire should at least take points from all of their remaining four games at Toyota Park.

If the team takes four wins from their final eight, they’re definitely in the playoffs. The rub here comes when you consider the remaining road games, which have the Fire visiting Eastern Conference cellar dwellers Toronto and New England.

Save the road games in Kansas City and New York, higher expectations will have the Fire winning six of their remaining eight matches. If they do that, they’ll be in serious contention for a top two spot in the East but that will rest on how the team does in those two six-pointers.

4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Points: 34
Remaining Schedule: vs. Real Salt Lake (9/6), at Sporting KC (9/14), at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Of the seven teams still in the playoff picture, Houston definitely has one of the easiest schedules. If they can take points from their next two games vs. RSL and at Sporting, all five of their remaining matches are winnable.

The biggest question mark for Houston is how they balance their remaining two CONCACAF Champions League group games (9/20 vs. CD FAS, 10/23 vs. Olimpia) while staying in the playoff race. Dominic Kinnear has done a pretty good job of getting result when his team is coming off a competitive game played four days or less before, going 4-3-6 this season.

The fact that the team got four points from their two visits to Central America earlier this month should give them a little ease but having a crowded fixture list across two different competitions will be difficult. The Dynamo’s saving grace will be their unbeaten home form at BBVA Compass Stadium where they’ve gone 8-0-5 since opening in May.

Like the Fire, four wins from their final seven should do the trick but picking up a point or two extra will get them in for sure.

WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)

 

5) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Points: 35.1
Remaining Schedule: at New England (9/5), at New York (9/15), vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29),  vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).

The Rundown: Riding a six match unbeaten streak of which the last four have all been victories, Columbus is certainly the hottest team in MLS and have pushed their way from potential spoiler right into the thick of the Eastern Conference race.

While the four straight wins are nice, consider that all four were against the bottom four in the East and three were at home. Furthermore the victories against New England and Montreal on the weekend came with stoppage time goals. I’m not saying they’re not a legitimate contender and summer acquisitions Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta are reason for concern for any of the Crew’s upcoming opponents but I do think remaining games at New York, Chicago and vs. Sporting KC could prove a blow to their chances.

Basically, if the Crew beat someone above them, everyone in the East has more cause for concern.

6) D.C. United
Current Points: 41
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. New England (9/15), at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: D.C. are the team that find themselves currently just outside the playoff bubble by one point but of the seven teams still in the race, have the easiest schedule with their opponents average point total sitting at 30. Their next five matches all come against sides that are pretty well out of their respective playoff races but one thing to note is that D.C. hasn’t traveled well to the west coast this season, going 0-3-1, making their September 29 trip to Portland an interesting one.

If D.C. does the business in those five matches, they should be in a good spot to play for positioning in their final two games against Columbus and the Fire to close out the season.

7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Points: 36.4
Remaining Schedule: at Chicago (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Simply put, Montreal are still in the race but with only five matches remaining, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be in the top five come season’s end. That doesn’t mean the first-year MLS side can’t muck things up for other playoff contenders.

The team’s road form this season (2-12-1) is likely what will keep Jesse Marsch’s side out of the postseason but their play at Stade Olimpique and Stade Saputo (10-3-2) is what has them in this position. All teams contending for a playoff spot should put a lot of emphasis on the team’s home match vs. Sporting KC on September 22 – I’ve got it marked as one of my top games where teams can make up points on the current Conference leaders.

Even considering Montreal has only taken points in three road matches this season, they’ll still look to finish their first MLS campaign strong and so the Fire and Dynamo would be wise to take them seriously as they make their own playoff push. 

10 August 9:07 am

Last week, the Fire played a team with a newish coach and it’s the same with week when the Men in Red travel to Philadelphia to face a Union team headed by interim coach John Hackworth. Philly have had some ups and downs but are a very difficult team to beat on their day. Here are a few tactical things to look out for in Sunday night's game:

Freddy Adu: Jekyll and Hyde

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Philly

 

Freddy Adu has a long history of inconsistency. When he is on, he can be one of the best attacking players in MLS but far too often fans haven't seen the best of him. This season has also been a mixed one for Freddy but the past two games in particular, he has failed to show up. He did score a penalty in a 2-1 win over New England but in Montreal last week he was very isolated on the right wing.

Fullback Sheanon Williams failed to get forward to support Adu on the outside and this forced him to constantly play the ball into the middle when he would get it in a wide position. He even switched wings for a time but this didn't help. Under Hackworth, Philadelphia have become an attacking force but last week the wing play of Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp prevented their outside backs from getting forward.

The Fire should look to mimic that tactic, especially because it limits the support for young Fredua.

New Forward Taking On New Defender?

Last week, Fire Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald replaced Dominic Oduro at halftime and helped the team overturn a 1-0 deficit. MacDonald is getting back to match fitness and Sunday’s game could be a good opportunity for him to get his first start.

Oduro has struggled to find the net of late and his speed could be a game changer off the bench. If Philly are in need of a goal, Oduro is the perfect person to bring in because his “freaky fast” pace enhances the Fire's counter attacking ability ten-fold.

Whoever starts up top for the Fire Sunday could be facing a new center back paring for the Union, who may give a first start to former Fire player Bakary Soumare. The Mali international has been rehabbing a knee injury since returning to MLS from Germany side Karlsruher in June but he did play 90 minutes in a reserve game last week and could replace second-year defender Amobi Okugo at the heart of the Union defense.

New partnerships have the potential to be shaky and if Soumare does indeed start, I would look for the Fire to test out the new look back line as early and often as possible.

This, of course can also be achieved through set pieces. Philly have had a major problem this year in that department, giving up the most headed goals in the league. As we saw last week, the Fire and especially rookie-of-the-year candidate Austin Berry are a threat from corners and free kicks and this could be key to unlocking the Union.

Depth: If we need it, it’s there

With any team, having strong options off the bench is a massive bonus. It can help the coach to change his tactics but it also increases competition for the first team. After last month’s acquisitions, the Fire now have a bench that is not only stronger but has plenty of MLS experience.

Take last Saturday’s game for example: the Fire lineup card had names like Dan Gargan, Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Paladini, Alex and Sherjill MacDonald on the sub’s list. Soon enough we could be adding Cory Gibbs there.

The team's depth is going to be very important in the push to move as high up in the Conference standings as possible. If things aren't going well on Sunday, coach Klopas has tried and tested players that he can call on, something that could be the difference between one point and three.

Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Philadelphia Union 0 behind goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.

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