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28 October 3:04 pm

#1 Chicago Fire vs. #4 D.C. United – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2003

Coming off a regular season in which the team finally fulfilled winning a Supporter’s Shield, the Fire traveled to D.C. to open up its first two-game aggregate playoff series with United at RFK Stadium.

From the first whistle the Fire never seemed to break much of a sweat and went ahead in the fourth minute when a headed clearance from a United defender fell for midfielder Andy Williams 25 yards from goal. The Jamaican international took the ball on the half-volley and one-timed his right-footed effort past Doug Warren and inside the left post.

WATCH: 2003 MLS Cup Playoff Run

 

 

In control throughout, the Fire frustrated United throughout the match and saw former players Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko pick up yellow cards for dissent and bringing the game into disrepute.

Holding a 1-0 lead late, the Fire would take a 2-0 lead back to Soldier Field when Zach Thornton’s clearance was flicked on by Nate Jaqua into the path of Ante Razov. The Fire’s all-time leading goal scorer calmly chipped the ball over the onrushing Warren in the 94th minute.

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 9, 2003

With D.C. needing two goals just to force extra time, the Fire again imposed their superiority in this match, putting United in the coffin with another early strike.

This time it was Willliams’ countryman and 2003 Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph, who after a quick combination with Chris Armas outside the box, unleashed another long range blast, this time to the right of Warren, to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.

The Fire would finish of United just after halftime when DaMarcus Beasley’s cross from left bounced in the area before finding Razov who headed it back across goal for his second of the series, moving the team to the Eastern Conference final with a 4-0 aggregate victory.

#1 Chicago Fire 1, #2 New England Revolution 0 (asdet) - Eastern Conference Final
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 14, 2003

Outshooting New England 20-7, the Fire clearly dominated the match from start to finish but a goal in regulation would elude the team at home.

Into extra time, it would be no one else but Chris Armas to provide the winner. Evan Whitfield worked his way up the right before pushing the ball to Justin Mapp at the endline.

The young winger centered a low cross that Ralph muffed before Armas tucked the ball in from close range, sending Soldier Field into pandemonium and the Fire back to MLS Cup for the third time in six seasons.

San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2 – MLS Cup 2003
The Home Depot Center; Carson; Calif
November 14, 2009

The Fire pipped San Jose for the Supporters Shield during the regular season but it would be the Earthquakes that had the last laugh as they won their second MLS Cup in three seasons.

San Jose take the advantage as Ronnie Ekelund’s fifth minute free kick and Landon Donovan’s 39th minute finish took the Earthquakes into the break up 2-0.

After halftime, Andy Williams would feed DaMarcus Beasley into the box on the left and the young Fire winger tucked his effort inside the near post to cut the lead in half in the 49th minute.

Just as it looked like the Fire had momentum, San Jose would restore their two goal lead a minute later when Richard Mulrooney caught the backline sleeping after the goal.

The Fire would get some help back from the Earthquakes in the 54th minute when Chris Roner headed the ball into his own net.

Just two minutes later, Damani Ralph broke into the box on the left before being hauled down by Roner, forcing referee Brian Hall to point to the spot.

Despite battling sickness throughout the week, Fire leading striker Ante Razov stepped up to take the spot kick but was denied when his effort was denied by Pat Onstad’s dive to the right.

With the missed opportunity, momentum seemed to shift back in San Jose’s favor and as the Fire pushed for the equalizer, it would be Donovan who would put the game away with his second goal in the 71st minute.

24 October 10:26 am

Yesterday I detailed the heartbreak of the 1999 Western Conference semifinals against Dallas. Today, we look at the run to MLS Cup 2000…

With new commissioner Don Garber coming on board the previous fall, new rules were put in place for the 2000 season, namely 10 minutes of extra time instead of a shootout to decide tied games, the clock counting up (like the rest of the world) instead of down and perhaps hailing to his roots in the NFL, a switch to three divisions of four teams instead of two conferences of six.

Even though the Fire set club records for both points (57) and goals scored (67) in a season, the team still tied for first with Kansas City, but the Wizards owned a superior goal differential (by two goals), leaving the Fire the second seed heading into the postseason.

Because the 2000 playoff run ended up being the longest in club history (7 games) descriptions will be a tad bit shorter.

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #7 New England Revolution – MLS Cup quarterfinals (best of 3)

Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 1 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 15, 2000

After being outshot 5-4 by New England in the first half, the Fire would surrender the first goal after the break when Wolde Harris’ shot deflected off Tom Soehn and past Zach Thornton in the 50th minute.

It would take just four minutes for the Fire to respond though as Revs defender Mauricio Wright attempts a headed clearance of Peter Nowak’s free kick but instead hits it off the underside of the cross bar and into goal to equalize.

Fiery, second-year midfielder Dema Kovalenko would provide the winner in the 73rd, receiving a perfect chip from Hristo Stoitchkov in stride before beating a Revolution defender and finishing past Jeff Causey to give the Fire a 1-0 series lead.

New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 1 (Game 2)
Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
September 19, 2000

 The Fire would surrender the first goal in Game 2 as well when Wolde Harris picked up a loose ball on the right before springing future Fire forward Eric Wynalda through before the then all-time U.S. goal scorer tucked the ball inside the right post for a 1-0 lead.

Dema Kovalenko would find the 83rd minute equalizer when defender Tenywa Bonseu played a 35-yard ball forward from the right sideline and over three player into the path of the Ukrainian midfielder to finish past Causey for the second straight match.

The tying goal would stand only three minutes when Jose Luis Morales’s free kick found Mauricio Wright who redeemed his own goal from Game 1 by heading the winner home inside the left post to send the series back to force Game 3 in Chicago.

Chicago Fire 6, New England Revolution 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 22, 2000

While Games 1 and 2 were tight, from nearly the first whistle Game 3 was a complete shellacking as the Fire took a 1-0 lead when Ante Razov cleanly finished DaMarcus Beasley’s cross in the fifth minute.

Hristo Stoitchkov would put his name on the scoresheet first in the 14th when Kovalenko crossed for the Bulgarian who finished from the left. Three minutes later, Stoitchkov let loose on a 50 yard run before slipping his effort through the legs of Causey.

Into first half stoppage time, Stoitchkov heads Peter Nowak through the middle of the field before the Polish midfielder rockets his effort into the back of the net.

With the game firmly in hand after halftime, the Fire would provide two more strikes as Razov finished Stoitchkov’s pass in the 65th before Same George cleaned up Razov’s rebound in the 75th.  The final goal gave Fire the then most lopsided victory in club history as well as advanced the club back to the MLS Cup semifinals.

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 MetroStars – MLS Cup semifinals (best of 3)

Chicago Fire 3, MetroStars 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 26, 2000

Despite the Metros holding a 9-7 shots on goal advantage by game’s end, the Fire carried the momentum from the previous match over to Game 1.

WATCH: 2000 Eastern Conference Final and MLS Cup

 

 

The home side would go up 1-0 in the 21st when Dema Kovalenko’s shot from the right eludes the dive of Mike Petke and falls perfectly for Hristo Stoitchkov who taps in from close range.

In the 35th minute, Chris Armas steals the ball at midfield, dibbles down the center channel and plays Jesse Marsch into the right corner. The veteran midfielder then crosses to the middle of the box for Kovalenko, providing the second-year Fire player his third goal of the playoffs.

The team would close out the game late when Diego Gutierrez chips DaMarcus Beasley into space up the left. The rookie winger dribbles around Metros ‘keeper Paul Grafer before centering for Razov for an easy finish in the 84th minute to give the Fire a 3-0 win.

MetroStars 2, Chicago Fire 0 (Game 2)
Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands, NJ
September 30, 2012

The MetroStars would bounce back with a solid performance in Game 2, using Mark Chung’s individual effort in the 40th before Adolfo Valencia iced the match in the 84th to send the series back to Chicago for the MLS Cup decider a week later.

Chicago Fire 3, MetroStars 2 (Game 3)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
October 6, 2012

The Fire would get on the board early when Hristo Stoitchkov’s corner finds its way through traffic before finding C.J. Brown who touches it inside the left post, scoring his only MLS Cup playoff goal and just one of six in his 13-year FIRE career.

The Men in Red looked to be coasting to an easy victory in the 31st when Ante Razov laid off a ball for Stoitchkov on the left. The former European Player of the Year juked Mike Petke before lashing a beater past Mike Ammann to take a 2-0 lead. If his goal wasn’t spectacular enough, his fishing-pole celebration certainly was.

The advantage would be erased within five minutes though as Adolfo Valencia tallied his second and third goals of the series. The first would come just a minute after Stoitchkov’s strike, as the Colombian forward glanced in Petke’s cross from the right. Four minutes later midfielder Alex Comas’ shot was spilled by Zach Thornton and Valencia was there to clean up the rebound.

After a back and forth second half, the Fire would eventually find the winner in the 88th minute when Chris Armas sent a long ball up the middle of the field for a streaking Razov. The club’s all-time leading goal scorer beat the offside trap, took a few touched and finished to the right of Ammann to send the team to its second MLS Cup final in three seasons.

#1 Kansas City Wizards (1-0) #2 Chicago Fire – MLS Cup Final

Played October 15, 2000 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

After the two sides tied on points during MLS regular season, they would fittingly meet in that year’s MLS Cup final.

The Fire would go down early in the 11th minute when Chris Klein streaked up the right and crossed for Danish striker Miklos Molnar. On a bit of a broken play, Molnar’s first attempt deflected off of Jesse Marsch but then fell for him to tap in from close range.

The Fire would take charge of the rest of the match being thwarted time and time again by Wizards goalkeeper Tony Meola. Going through a career renaissance that year, the veteran U.S. international would make a frustrating 10 saves in the match. I’ll save the trouble of describing each one by just saying you should watch the highlight video.

After a disappointing finish in 1999, the Fire put in a valiant effort in 2000, falling just one hurdle short of a second MLS Cup in three years of existence.

Six days later though, the team would get some redemption by hoisting its second Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 victory over Miami.

 

21 October 11:16 am

Saturday night’s flat performance at New England combined with results in New York, D.C. and Houston have put the Fire in a precarious position going into this weekend's regular season finale vs. United. With all five playoff teams now known, the result for the Men in Red means the team could literally still be seeded anywhere from second to fifth in the East come Sunday morning…

With only one regular season game left, this will be the last edition of Playoff Math for 2012 where I look at each team's best and worst case scenarios and potential seedings. Enjoy!

1) Sporting KC 
Current Points: 60 (40 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/2
Last Game: vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Things have worked pretty well for KC heading into the playoffs. Saturday night they went and earned a second result in New York this season and combined with the Fire’s failure at New England, have nearly locked down the top spot in the East. At the very least, they'll finish second.

The Best Case: All they need to do is earn a draw in their final game against Philadelphia to take the top seed.

The Worst Case: A loss to Philly at midweek combined with a D.C.win over the Fire would push Sporting down to second based on the Goals For tiebreaker. 

Beyond just being a solid team, Sporting have more than earned their position in the table by being smart about how they’ve earned results in difficult places to play.

2) D.C. United
Current Points: 57 (52 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 1/4
Last Game:  at Chicago (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: D.C. was the biggest mover of the night and did it all in dramatic fashion by coming back from two deficits to eventually down the Columbus 3-2 behind Lewis Neal’s stoppage time strike. The win propelled United past the Fire and into second, qualified them for their first postseason berth since 2007 all the while helping to end the Crew’s postseason hopes.

The Best Case: A win Saturday against the Fire combined with a Sporting loss to Philadelphia would push United to first in the East. They could still lock down second on Saturday with just a draw against Chicago. 

The Worst Case: A loss to the Fire and a New York win over Philadelphia would push D.C. to fourth and force them to host the Eastern Conference play-in game on October 31 or November 1.

3) Chicago Fire 
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 2/5
Last Game: vs. D.C. United (10/27; 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: After winning seven of eight in late summer and fall, the Men in Red have dropped their last three of four. There is reason to be nervous but be glad the team is home and can still control their own destiny as it comes to earning a higher seed.

The Best Case: All it would take for the Fire to lock up second in the East is a win at home against D.C. on Saturday.

The Worst Case: New York will end its match with Philadelphia a half hour before kickoff at Toyota Park -- If the Red Bulls win and the Fire lose or draw against D.C. the team will at least be condemned to fourth place.

Then the team will point its eyes to Denver where Colorado hosts Houston (8pm CT) in the final match of the 2012 MLS regular season – if the Dynamo win with a Fire loss against DC, the Men in Red will fall to fifth and open up the postseason at Houston. If the Fire draw against D.C., they’ll remain fourth regardless of what happens in Colorado.  

4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 54 (54 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
Last Game:  at Philadelphia (10/27; 12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network)

The Rundown: New York will be disappointed to not have done more against Sporting KC in two huge home games towards the end of the season but will be happy to go into the final weekend with a playoff berth locked.

The Best Case:  Because the Fire and United play and are already ahead of New York, there is no way for Red Bull to finish higher than third. With that in mind, all they need to do is defeat Philadelphia to lock in third place and avoid the play-in game.

The Worst Case: A draw or less to Philadelphia and then Red Bull will also be watching the Houston/Colorado match closely that night. A Houston win would mean the Dynamo would at the very least host New York in the play-in game, while a draw or loss would mean Red Bull would host the Dynamo.

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 53 (48 GF)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Highest/Lowest Possible Seed: 3/5
last Game:  at Colorado (10/27 8pm CT on Direct Kick/MLS Live)

The Rundown: Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia Saturday night combined with D.C.’s victory over Columbus clinched the 2011 MLS Cup finalists a place back in the playoffs. Because of their appearance in last year’s championship match, the Dynamo also have to juggle the final group game of CONCACAF Champions League play this Wednesday when they welcome Honduran side Olimipa to BBVA Compass Stadium.

Luckily for the Dynamo, they need only a draw in the game to ensure advancement to the next round ahead of having to close out the regular season and fight for positioning in the East with a  match at altitude in Colorado.

The Best Case: The Dynamo could finish as high as third in the East if both New York and Chicago lose their games earlier in the day and Houston defeats Colorado.

The Worst Case: The Fire and Red Bull both win their earlier matches condemning the Dynamo to fifth and rendering the game that night at Colorado meaningless.  In that case, Houston would travel to D.C. United for the play-in game.

19 October 8:59 am

The Fire stopped a two-game skid in convincing fashion last time out, beating New York 2-0 at Red Bull Arena. The team travels to New England Saturday night (LIVE 6pm CT on NBC 5.2) to play a Revolution team riddled with injuries and eliminated from the playoff race. As we saw two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Union, a team playing for pride can be extremely dangerous so there is no room for complacency. Here are some things to look for from a tactical standpoint.

Jerry Bengtson - stopping the target man

New England's designated player, Jerry Bengtson, has settled very well in MLS since his arrival halfway through 2012. The Honduran plays the same role as Sherjill MacDonald does for the Fire, holding up the ball and looking to combine with the advancing midfielders. Bengtson also likes to roam into wide positions, encouraging his support players to move into the space he vacates.

Bengtson also comes into the game on a high after scoring a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of Canada in San Pedro Sula Tuesday night. It is commonplace for an international returning his club team after representing his country twice in four days to start the game from the bench but given New England's injury crisis, it is a near certainty that he will be leading the line come Saturday night. 

WATCH: Matko's Take on New England

 

Cutting off the supply to Bengtson is very important.

Juan Toja - a creative spark from the bench

Since joining the Revs over a month ago, Toja has made four appearances, all from the bench. The former Dallas player showed what he is capable of in New England's last game against Philadelphia, coming on for the last twenty minutes and making a big impact.

Toja is a player who wants the ball at all times, often dropping deep to collect it and start an attack. Against the Union, he looked to get the ball wide as much as possible but also looked to take on players whenever the opportunity arose.

It is obvious that Toja is not 100% match fit and unlikely he will start on Saturday night, but he will almost certainly be the first man off the bench, especially if the Revs need a goal. The Union did not adjust to Toja coming on and allowed the midfielder far too much room to create, something the Fire will need to prevent if he makes an appearance.

Fire attack - no need to force it

In the Fire's last game in New York, the team for the most part played as any good away team should, absorbing pressure and counter attacking whenever possible. The team also did well to retain possession but at times were guilty of trying to force the ball forward, sometimes resulting in a careless giveaway, especially in the final third of the field.

The aim was to get the ball to advanced forward Sherjill MacDonald, either directly to his feet so he could hold the ball up or to play a ball into the channels for MacDonald to run onto. At times this was very successful, but the midfield seemed desperate to get the ball up the pitch, instead of playing the simple pass and retaining possession.

The main culprit of this of late is Uruguayan Flaco Fernandez who has had a slight dip in form since being recalled to the Uruguayan National Team. Fernandez is vital to the Fire's attack and the New England game provides him with an opportunity to rediscover the blistering form he was in a few weeks ago.

Double teaming in defense - leads to counter attacks

Against New York, the Fire did a much better job of pressuring their opponents instead of sitting back and allowing them to come and attack them. Often the Fire would double team an opponent in order to win the ball back which was very successful.

Both goals the Fire scored against the Red Bulls came from forcing a turnover by double or sometimes triple teaming the opposition. To do it successfully, the outside midfielders much at times tuck in to support the center mids or drop deep to support the outside defenders.

The other key element of the double teaming tactic is to quickly counter when you do win the ball. The Fire did not give New York enough time to adjust after losing possession and thanks to the runs and finishes of Sherjill MacDonald, the Men in Red were able to leave New York with all three points. Look for the Fire to continue this trend against New England this weekend, especially when a player like Toja gets the ball.

Prediction: The Fire avenge a loss at Gillette Stadium earlier in the season by winning 2-0. Goals from Chris Rolfe and Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Berry.

Prediction Record since August 4: 6-3

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

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)
----------------------------------------
6) Columbus - 50pts. (41 GF)

Let's hope I'm right!

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

13 September 11:09 am

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
FRIDAY
Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo – 7:30pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
SATURDAY
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.