Another game, another win for the Fire last weekend against Eastern Conference rivals Montreal Impact. The task gets a little harder this week when Columbus Crew come to Toyota Park on Saturday night looking for the points they need to stay in playoff contention. Columbus will be buoyed by their last gasp winner against Chivas USA on Wednesday night at Crew Stadium but they come up against a Fire team that has only lost one of its last eight games. Here are a few things to look out for on Saturday night.
Balls over the top: a Crew potential weakness
The Crew center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Julius James have had some trouble this season with balls played over the top into the path of an on-running striker. This was especially evident in the Crew's match against New York last weekend.
In one case, Rafa Marquez played a brilliant ball over Marshall’s head for Henry to score. Dax McCarty also played Henry in over the top from a more advanced position than Marquez which almost led to a goal.
Even though it’s not really the Fire’s game, the midfielders, especially players like Fernandez, Pause and Pardo should be on the lookout for chances to play Rolfe and potentially Nyarko in over the top, if the opportunity arises.
HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 1, CHV 0 (9/19/2012)
Federico Higuain - don't allow him room to cross
Federico Higuain has boosted the Crew attack dramatically since arriving a few months ago. His crossing ability as well as his excellent free kicks make him a threat against any team.
Against a similar sort of danger man in Felipe last week, the Fire dropped Logan Pause deeper to prevent the Brazilian from operating in the space between the midfield and back line. Higuain does that but also likes to move out wide where he can put in teasing crosses.
Against Philadelphia in August the Fire allowed Freddy Adu too much space to cross and it resulted in a goal. The team should look to prevent something similar from happening on Saturday night.
Playing 90 minutes plus: no switching off
This Crew have had a love/hate relationship with the last 15 minutes of games this season. They have conceded quite a few goals late in games but in recent weeks, they are reversing that trend. The last gasp winner last week against Chivas USA is one example. Earlier this month, the Crew came from behind to beat Montreal in the 93rd minute.
Though not necessarily a tactical point, you can be sure that head coach Frank Klopas told his team this week that they cannot shut off against the Crew and that giving up a late goal could be very harmful in the push for first place in the East.
On the other side of the coin, Columbus have proven that they are guilty to shutting off late in games and this could come back to haunt them against a Fire team who have capitalized on their opponents mistakes time and time again this season.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from MacDonald and Oduro.
Stephen Piggott is a Contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Over the summer, we presented 15 memorable games and goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.
To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.
In the first installment of the series last week, we named Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe to the #Fire15. Today,
Today, DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov and Chris Armas join them...
DaMarcus Beasley - The youngest player to ever appear for the Fire, DaMarcus Beasley began his very promising career as a 17-year-old in Chicago during the 2000 season.
The future U.S. international would go on to appear in 134 competitive matches, tallying 18 goals and 28 assists as he dazzled fans with his speedy and ability on the dribble.
Beasley would use his early time with the Fire to make appearances on the first of three U.S. World Cup teams in 2002 before springing to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven midway through the 2004 season.
Ante Razov – There is no doubt and little argument about forward Ante Razov’s inclusion on the #Fire15 list. One of the all-time leading goal scorers in MLS, Razov holds the distinction by a country mile for the Fire, tallying 95 across 196 competitive games from 1998-2004. Razov’s strike rate is more impressive when you consider the next player on the list is Chris Rolfe who has 49 goals at the moment.
Razov led the team in scoring in five of his seven seasons (playing only half a season in 2001) and tallied his career high of 25 competitive goals in 2000.
QUOTABLE: “I took pride in my craft. I wasn’t the fastest guy, I wasn’t the best dribbler but I knew how to shoot and get myself in position and do the best with what your talents are. I worked at that constantly and I was never harder on anyone than myself. We had such a good group [in those early years] that everyone demanded the best from everyone.” – Ante Razov on the All-In Podcast (September 10, 2012)
Chris Armas – Much like Razov, Armas is a necessity on this list. The second captain in club history, Armas is also one of the longest tenured Fire players of all-time, playing from 1998-2007. The former U.S. international joins C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton as the only three players in club history to be part of all six domestic titles.
The Ring of Fire honoree is one of a number of American players including Razov, Thornton and Jesse Marsch that built the core and found their career stride with the club’s early successes.
An honest, hard-working player, Armas racked up 13 goals in 272 competitive appearances. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Fire captain sits second all-time in assists with 53, behind only Peter Nowak at 60.
QUOTABLE: “I believed the little things added up to big things. I knew that on game day, I wasn’t going to be pushing magic buttons, I wasn’t that type of player. It sounds cliché but literally, working at technique, technique and technique. Being able to execute that in games and being able to work at the craft every day. That meant coming early and staying afterwards. I felt like I had some ability but it was followed up by hard work and the mentality, staying grounded.” – Chris Armas Blast from the Past Q&A (September 11, 2012)
Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com as we name the rest of the #Fire15 players in the month leading up to the club's Anniversary match on Wednesday, October 3 vs. Philadelphia (TICKETS) and 15th Anniversary Party to be held Monday, October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. (TICKETS).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
Philadelphia vs. Houston – 3pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live)
D.C. United vs. Chivas USA – 6pm CT (Galavision)
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…
New York 2, Sporting KC 1
Columbus 1, Chivas USA 0
D.C. United 2, Philadelphia 1
Sega 200. No that isn't a new gaming console.
Seeing as Gonzalo Segares has only missed three regular season matches the past two seasons, it seems a good bet that the eight-year Fire veteran will record his 200th competitive appearance for the Men in Red when the side welcomes the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park Saturday night.
The Costa Rican international enters the match having racked up 172 regular season, 12 MLS Cup playoff, 12 U.S. Open Cup and three SuperLiga appearances since his rookie year of 2005.
Not a bad haul for a guy that saw 34 other names called before his in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Sega Plays All Parts in the 2011 Capital Comeback
“I’m very excited,” Segares told Chicago-Fire.com Friday afternoon. “In this day and age it’s definitely not an easy thing to play 200 games with the same team. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
If not for an injury riddled 2009 campaign and his short stint in Europe during the first half of 2010, Segares would have easily hit the mark earlier. It’s still worth noting the veteran really has no equal in terms of consistency at the position over the course of the club’s 15 seasons.
“I’m always thankful for the Fire to have given me the opportunity. Since 2005, it’s been a long road -- I have memories of very good moments and some tougher ones but it’s been a very positive experience.”
Of those moments, Segares pointed to his first game as a professional (a 2-1 win over Colorado on May 21, 2005), his first goal less than a month later (4-3 loss at D.C. United on June 15). A less fond memory is his stoppage time equalizer that was disallowed in that year’s Eastern Conference final at New England.
More recently, Segares counts playing in front of a sold-out Soldier Field against Manchester United last July and his role in providing two assists in the stunning 2-1 stoppage time “Capital Comeback” last season at D.C as happy memories.
Nothing beats the time he hoisted the 2006 U.S. Open Cup in front of the Fire faithful at Toyota Park.
“That was my first championship as a professional. You can’t replicate a memory like that, especially at home.”
The second longest tenured member of the current squad, Segares recently stated on the All-In Podcast that he wouldn’t mind ending his career as a member of the Fire.
“It’s place where I was given my first chance to become a professional. If I get the opportunity I would love to stay here.”
Despite a plethora of chances, the Fire didn’t make things easy on themselves Wednesday night in Toronto. Going up 2-0 with goals from Alvaro Fernandez and Chris Rolfe before halftime, the Fire had plenty of chances but couldn’t put Toronto out of its misery with a third goal.
Eric Hassli’s 79th minute strike and Toronto’s constant pressure late kept things interesting but Frank Klopas’ side found away to lock things down at the back and grind out another important three points on the road.
Ugly as it may have been at times, at the end of the day, Frank Klopas’ side still came away with a valuable away win and catapulted itself into second place in the East. The team now sits even on games played (27) and one point ahead (47) of the New York Red Bulls (46).
Heading into Saturday’s game vs. Montreal, there’s a chance the Fire could sit atop the East by the end of the weekend.
WEEKEND PLAYOFF IMPLICATION SCHEDULE
Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo – 7:30pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 6:00pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
D.C. United vs. New England – 6:30pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact – 7:30pm CT (CSN Chicago)
Let’s put things in perspective…
WATCH: Sporting KC 0, Houston 0 (7/7/2012)
One of two huge matches in the East this weekend is Friday’s nights encounter between first-place Sporting KC and fourth-place Houston at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
If Kansas City, who are just a surprising 4-3-3 at home vs. East teams loses, it sets the Fire up for a move to first on Saturday night. If that happened, the Dynamo could also potentially jump all the way into second place (at least momentarily) as well.
Lucky for the home side, Houston’s away form against the Conference has been quite poor (1-5-4), though one of those four draws did come at Sporting on July 7 (0-0).
The obvious hope for the Fire is to see the Dynamo earn their second away win against the East Friday night but I think anything more than a point for Houston is unrealistic.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, Houston Dynamo 1
- Further East on Saturday, third-place New York welcomes the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena. I wrote recently that I wasn’t yet convinced about the Crew’s surge up the East table because of the level of opponents they’d played during their run and in their last match, they fell 2-0 at New England.
In Saturday’s game, they travel to play a New York side that is unbeaten at home this season (9-0-3) and hasn’t even drawn against an East opponent at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0). Interestingly enough, at 4-6-4, Columbus has a much better away record than Houston and has gone 3-5-2 away in the conference, including a victory over Sporting KC.
Even with all that, it’s hard to go against New York’s home dominance this season. As it relates to the Fire, a draw would be a fantastic result for a few reasons but I have to think Red Bull comes away victorious this weekend.
PREDICTION: New York Red Bulls 2, Columbus Crew 1
WATCH: New York 4, Columbus 1 (4/7/2012)
- Sixth place D.C. United hosts New England Saturday night at RFK Stadium in a match where all three points will be quite necessary for the home side.
Most of MLS was in shock Thursday morning with the club’s announcement that captain Dwayne DeRosario had suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out 10-12 weeks, effectively ending his season.
Even still, United (41) sit one point back of the final playoff spot, even without DeRo are better than New England and much like Red Bull, have fantastic form at RFK this season, going 9-1-4 overall and 7-1-3 against Eastern opponents.
While New England bounced back with a home win against Columbus before the international break, their away record is abysmal (1-10-2; 0-7-2 in the East) and I suspect their skid down the East table continues Saturday night.
PREDICTION: D.C. United 2, New England Revolution 0
- In the last Eastern match of the night, the Fire will know exactly what they have to do to move into first place or retain second place by halftime against Montreal.
If all the predicted results above hold and the Fire win oer the Impact, they'd stay in second place but sit just one point back of East-leading KC.
The Fire’s home form this season (9-2-2; 7-0-1 vs. East) combined with Montreal’s away record (2-11-1; 2-6-1 vs. East) certainly favor the Men in Red in this match, though Klopas’ side will be coming off just three days rest while the Impact will not have played in two weeks.
Also remember that while the first-year MLS side is just three points out of the final playoff spot, they only have five games remaining while almost everyone above has seven.
A loss for Montreal on Saturday would come as close as could be to effectively end the Impact’s bid for a playoff place in their first MLS season.
PREDICTION: Saturday night will certainly be a battle but I think the Fire take their 10th home win of the season and move within one point of first in the East with a 2-1 victory (what other score line is there?) over Montreal.
It didn't seem a likely result but the Fire and a few other teams in the East got playoff help as the low-lying New England Revolution knocked off the high-flying Columbus Crew 2-0 Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium.
Riding a four-match winning streak, popular wisdom had the Crew continuing their run, but in this match, they looked nothing like the Columbus team we've come to know over the past month. The visitors rarely threatened the New England goal and the home side which has seemed down and out for a while, rattled off a rather dominant performance.
The Revs took a 1-0 lead through Dimitry Imbongo's "clean up" effort in the 53rd minute and looked to have a second goal seven minutes later, but Stephen McCarthy's header was negated by an offside call. With the Crew only down 1-0, the most curious case moment of the night came when Columbus defender Chad Marshall (pictured above) headed a ball over 'keeper Andy Greunebaum and into his own net to give the Revs a 2-0 lead. The goal was puzzling as Marshall seemed to give up on the ball when it looked as though he could have saved off the line.
Unfortunately for Robert Warzycha's side, their best efforts didn't come until the 87th minute when a two-shot sequence was thwarted by by Revs 'keeper Matt Reis, to complete the New England victory.
The result means the Crew have missed out on what would have been regarded an easy three points and an opportunity to move all the way to third in the Eastern Conference standings. Long story short, everything in the East playoff race stayed the same Wednesday night but Thursday night, the Houston Dynamo will make their bid for a return to third in the East as they host Real Salt Lake at BBVA Compass Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: Revolution 2, Crew 0
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.
I’ll be honest, the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup became sort of an afterthought following the Fire’s disappointing overtime exit to the Michigan Bucks back in May.
I believe FDR biographer Hugh Gallagher said it best when speaking about the former President’s attitude towards his paralysis, “Denial is a useful thing in its place.” With the team knocked out, it just became easier to take this route.
Of course as the summer went on and the tournament reached its final rounds, we were all faced with the scary prospect of seeing Seattle Sounders FC equal our club’s MLS-record four Open Cup titles. Come mid-July, the only thing that stood in their way was Sporting KC, who to some great resentment in Cascadia, outbid the three-time defending champions to host the final at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
With the news that his second-year stadium would host the final, Sporting CEO and serial tweeter Robb Heineman was understandably excited and encouraged the traveling support from Seattle to join in what would be a vibrant night at his newish stadium.
It is well known in MLS supporter’s circles that LiveSTRONG isn’t exactly as open in accommodating away fans in the same way that most other MLS stadia are (mainly with the use of flag poles). With that in mind, Sporting KC supporter @KarahM318 followed up on his tweet and Heineman even went a step further.
Flag poles for the final! Why not?
Certainly Heineman had already recognized the stature of the occasion when the bid money cleared his checking account but it was a great move on the club’s part to allow Sounders FC fans to support their team in a way they're used to in the Final.
Despite severe weather that delayed the start of the match, the audible and visual atmosphere created by both sides was fantastic. While we’re no fan of rave green in these parts, the contrasting flags (on poles) looked great.
(Photo Courtesy of Aaron Riner)
Of course in the end, Sporting thwarted Seattle’s bid to tie the Fire’s Open Cup record and for that, we’re all thankful.
Perhaps enthused by KC’s willingness to allow Seattle fans help create more atmosphere at the match, Section 8 Chicago Chairman Joel Biden tweeted to Heineman asking if the same courtesy would be afforded Fire supporters upon their visit there in September…
And this leads to the crux of the problem.
I have the utmost respect for Robb Heineman and what his group has accomplished in KC but if memory serves, it was he that was the biggest champion of his club’s new-found rivalry with the Fire last year. Seeing rivalries as organic things that come through supporters and a history of on-the-field battles, the Fire front office didn’t go along with the “plan”.
Given Heineman’s tweet, I’m left to wonder if he and Sporting have left the “rivalry” behind and if that’s the case, then why?
Does it have to do with the Fire’s domination since it “started”? (The Men in Red are 3-0-1 against Sporting KC since it “began” last year).
If not, I have to ask why the season series finale against your biggest rival, one that has certain MLS Cup playoff implications isn’t deemed, “special”? Certainly allowing the traveling support from Chicago to wave flags in your stadium will make your place that much better for the national television audience tuning in on NBC Sports Network…
When Sporting KC brought 400 people to watch the Men in Red take one of their aforementioned “rivalry” victories this past May, the Fire allowed those from the KC Cauldron to wave flags in support of their team throughout the 2-1 loss. It’s a practice that’s long been in place at Toyota Park, even going back to those days that Sporting were known as the Wizards (see photo below).
Maybe it's supporter-style gamesmanship, or perhaps PVC piping is just more dangerous in Kansas but the vast majority of MLS stadia allow this type of support from both sides of fans.
MLS has a league-wide list of in-stadium Supporters Exemptions that allow for the use of drums, horns and other musical instruments, banners and signs that meet what can be described as a “good taste” criteria and most importantly to this blog, flags on poles.
The caveat is that all use of the above items are “permitted at locations and times determined by the club or venue management.”
LiveSTRONG Sporting Park security has already proven capable of dealing with the waving flags in the stands, so really what is the issue?
Should MLS stadia that currently allow this type of support take a “quid pro quo” approach with fans whose home venues do not? Should there be a true, across the board set of standards for visiting supporters throughout the league’s 19 home venues?
In either case, I challenge Fire supporters to agitate for this right at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park when the team looks to sweep the season series there on Friday, September 28.
If you agree with this article, tweet it or even just your thoughts on the subject to @SportingKC and most importantly their CEO @RobbHeineman using hashtag #FearTheFlag. Or use the tweet button to the right and it'll do it all for you!
Flag poles or not, a contingent from Section 8 Chicago and Sector Latino will be heading to support the Fire at next month's all-important match at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. Secure your bus and match ticket by clicking here.
The long-standing rumors of Fire midfielder Marco Pappa’s move across the pond finally came true last Monday as the Fire and Dutch club SC Heerenveen jointly announced the Guatemalan international would move to the Netherlands effective January 1, 2013.
While Pappa has been a key part of the team the last four seasons, his desire to go to Europe at the end of his MLS contract was pretty well known. The Fire did right by Pappa and according to the interview to the right, the midfielder is looking to do right by the club that gave him the shop-window opportunity.
WATCH: Pappa Talks Fire Focus
“I still have a contract with the Fire,” said Pappa. “We talked about this situation. I’m going to keep doing my best like I always do and I’m happy for the opportunity but right now it would be good to get a championship [here] before going to Europe.”
While a player signing a contract with another club before the one he’s with is finished seems a little odd, it’s common practice throughout the world and is becoming more regular in MLS. For instance it was just three years ago that Fire forward Chris Rolfe signed a pre-contract with Aalborg BK in the Danish SuperLiga.
The best thing about Rolfe’s situation was that the Fire played the MLS rules well, giving the forward a “qualifying offer”, that is an offer deemed credible for his market value, before he signed with Aalborg. By doing that, the club retained his MLS rights, paving the way for his smooth return earlier this April.
Though defender Gonzalo Segares didn’t sign a pre-contract with Cypriot club Apollon Limassol during 2009, his situation is similar to that of Rolfe’s. The Costa Rican international played the first six months of 2010 in Cyprus before returning to the Fire that August, a move again made easier by the qualifying offer.
When Wilman Conde made his desire known to return to MLS from Mexican side Atlas earlier this year, the Fire cashed on the qualifying offer made to the Colombian defender at the end of 2010, earning a nice chunk of allocation money in January’s trade that sent him to New York.
Aside from doing right by a player that has performed for the club, the best part of Pappa’s move to Holland is that like in the differing case of Rolfe, Segares and Conde, the Fire have kept future options open with the player.
Most will agree that Marco has all the tools to be successful in Holland but unforeseen things can happen and though no transfer fee is being wired from The Netherlands to Chicago, it’s a sign the Fire have done some good business.
With 10 regular season matches plus a potential playoff run, Pappa still has plenty to prove before heading to Holland.