Blog

Sporting Kansas City

27 September 10:21 pm

The Fire travel to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Friday night to face Sporting KC (LIVE 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) in a game which could go a long way toward determining who wins the Eastern Conference crown. Both teams are playing well and it has all the makings of a classic. Here are a few things to watch out for from a tactical perspective...

Balls over the top: Fire defenders beware

Sporting KC have a tendency to look for balls into space behind the opposing teams outside defenders and the Fire will need to be wary of this tactic Friday night. KC attackers such as Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong all like to make these runs which often drag a central defender out of position to cover, leaving space in the middle for the other attackers to move into.

 

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Sporting KC

 

 

The difficult part about defending these through balls is the fact that they can come from anywhere. In KC's last home match against Houston, it wasn't just midfielders like Roger Espinoza playing the balls into space but the defenders were getting in on the act, too.

Though he has played extremely well over the past month or so, Jalil Anibaba can sometimes stray too far forward which leaves space in behind him for players to run into and exploit. On the other side of the field, left back Gonzalo Segares also needs to be cautious.

High pressure: harass KC

In the Fire's past few matches, the team's policy of applying pressure to the opposition high up the field has been very effective. Not only does the pressure offer up the opportunity for a turnover, but it also disrupts the other team’s attacking rhythm.

In KC's last game away to Montreal, the Impact used the high pressure tactic and caused all sorts of problems for the away side. I look for the likes of Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko to be pressuring the KC players all night when they are in possession.

In the absence of Pavel Pardo, Alex has excelled in his new holding midfield position and his energy in the center of the park will be needed against Sporting KC. If he can also use his pace to pressure the KC midfield without straying too far out of position, it will be crucial to the Fire's chances of coming away with points.

Playoff atmosphere: keeping a cool head

There is so much riding on Friday night’s match and both teams know what is a stake, which is all the more reason for the Fire players to keep cool heads throughout the game. Kansas City has a tendency to get riled up very easily, starting with their coach, Peter Vermes. Players such as Kai Kamara and Michael Harrington also can get very emotional on the pitch, especially if they feel calls are not going their way.

With this in mind, I'm sure Frank Klopas has reiterated to his players not to let their emotions get the better of them in this high pressure game. For the most part, the Fire haven't had any problems with this aspect of their game this season but in a match of such importance where there isn't much between the teams, keeping your head can mean the difference between a positive and negative result.

Scoring first: stopping the bad habit

Though not necessarily a tactical point, a worrying trait that many would like to see addressed is reversing the trend of giving up the first goal.

This season, the Fire have gone a goal behind in games much too often for the coaches, fans and players liking. Though the team has often come back to tie the game and gone on to win it in many cases, sooner or later giving up the first goal is going to come back to haunt the Men in Red.

Clearly there is no one reason for going behind in so many games this season but if the team can reverse that trend it will make everyone happy. In the regular season to date, the Fire have only kept five clean sheets, the last of which came 11 games ago (1-0 July 14 vs. Vancouver). A clean sheet away from home Friday against Sporting KC would be a fantastic achievement.

Prediction: 1-0. Nyarko scores and Fire keep first clean sheet in 11 games to move into first place in the East.

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

24 September 11:51 am

After Sunday, D.C. United continued to move up the Eastern Conference table even without Dwayne DeRosario, earning a 1-0 home win over Chivas USA. The shock result of the weekend likely came earlier in the day as Houston dropped a 3-1 decision at lowly Philadelphia, leaving them just one point above sixth place Columbus for the final playoff spot in the East.

Seeing as I broke down each team’s remaining schedules prior to Sunday’s two matches, I won’t do it again here… Refer to that blog for an almost up-to-date breakdown.  

Instead today’s edition of Playoff Math will be shorter and potentially sweeter as I focus on “Magic Numbers”…

I’ve come to find out that with three variations of a result, “Magic Numbers” in soccer are more difficult to come by than in baseball, basketball or football. but I felt it part of my duties as Team Writer to work out just how close the Fire (and the rest of the East) are to playoff qualification.

To be clear, the “Magic Numbers” below do not reflect the number of points a team needs to earn but rather, the number of points a team needs to gain combined with the number of points the sixth place team (right now Columbus) needs to drop. In the Crew’s case, it’s in comparison to fifth place Houston.

As an example, the Fire could achieve their magic number of five by winning Friday night at Sporting KC (3 points) and then have Columbus lose (drop 3 points) or draw with Philadelphia (drop 2 points).  

Also find the "Soonest Could Clinch" column which is pretty self-explanatory. It's factored by taking into account the date a team could gain maximum points and have the sixth place team no longer able to catch them.

Make sense?  Here’s the table…

Team Games Left Points Max. Points Magic Number Soonest Could Clinch
Sporting KC 4 55 67 3 9/28
Chicago Fire 5 53 68 5 9/29
NY Red Bulls 4 50 62 8 10/7
D.C. United 4 50 62 8 10/7
Houston Dynamo 4 46 58 12 10/7
Columbus Crew 4 45 57 13 10/20

The only other team that can clinch qualification this week is of course Sporting, who simply need a victory over the Fire or a draw and Columbus defeat to book their ticket to the postseason.

Not that you need much more reason to tune into the Fire’s game at Sporting KC Friday at 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network but it could end up being one of the biggest games of the season…

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.

06 September 3:25 pm

Eight days ago I wrote a blog on the policy regarding the use of flag poles by away supporters at Sporting KC's LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. 

In the piece, I appealed for Fire and all MLS supporters to tweet Sporting CEO @RobbHeineman and the club's Twitter account (@SportingKC) asking why the club wouldn't allow this right to away supporters. You may have once or twice seen the #FearTheFlag hashtag...

There are many words to describe that blog and Twitter campaign: agitating, pestering, annoying would all be appropriate. Admittedly, it was a little jab at Robb and our friends down in Kansas City but seemed a worthy point to raise considering LiveSTRONG was one of only two MLS venues that had this restriction in place.

While I wasn't sure that the policy would ever change, Robb proved be wrong last night by tweeting this... 

A call to Sporting's public relations folks today confirmed that the policy has indeed changed and away supporters will be allowed to fly flags inside LiveSTRONG Sporting Park going forward. Recognizing this fact, I think it appropriate to give credit where it's due.

First, Robb points to the collaboration with the KC Cauldron as the reason the policy has changed. The fact that the club's own supporters pushed for rights of visiting supporters in their own stadium is really a great thing. Well done, bravo.

Secondly, I have to give kudos to Robb and the club as a whole. To make a change in stadium policy like this during the season isn't as simple as snapping two fingers. The fact that Robb and the club considered the arguments (whatever they were by the Cauldron) and perhaps the tweets from supporters outside of KC and decided to listen to popular opinion is a breath of fresh air. 

Robb, I look forward to visiting LiveSTRONG for the second time this season at the end of the month and would be happy to do a "flag pole photo op" with you on the 28th. I'm sure our PR departments can talk.

Third, thanks to all those fans, both Fire and otherwise, that supported the cause through Twitter and other means.

We bombarded @SportingKC and @RobbHeineman with our protest tweets, I think it would now be appropriate to tweet thanks and appreciation for being willing to change in a way that everyone wins.

Now on that note, we just have to convince @PhilaUnion to do the same...

Fly flags with Jeff and Section 8 Chicago in LiveSTRONG Sporting Park on September 28. Get on the bus to Kansas City by putting your deposit down here.

04 September 11:43 am

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 August 11:01 am

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…

Robb’s response…

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

26 August 9:04 am

Lets be honest, with the Men in Red losing 4-2 at DC on Wednesday and being the only MLS team with this weekend off, you had a little bit of concern regarding where the team would be sitting come Monday morning.

Luckily for the Fire, teams from north of the border made this idle weekend a reasonably good one (if not tighter) heading into next Sunday's all-important home clash vs. Houston. 

A quick wrap up of weekend results that have to do with the Eastern Conference playoff race...

Montreal Impact 3, DC United 0

Highlights: Montreal 3, D.C. United 0

Riding off their 4-2 defeat of the Fire at midweek, DC United visited the Montreal Impact in a Saturday afternoon matinee. Despite their result on Wednesday, the game marked United's third in six days (forcing Ben Olsen to bring starters Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Branco Boskovic off the bench) and came against an Impact side that has taken 10 of its 12 victories at home this season. 

Longtime Canadian international Patrice Bernier stole the show on the day, setting up Marco Di Vaio's 24th minute goal before talllying a 50th minute penalty and icing the match with his second goal deep into second half stoppage time.

United rarely threatened and saw their best chance come in the 78th minute when Troy Perkins thwarted Marcelo Saragosa from close range.

With the victory, Montreal (12-13-3; 39pts.) moves within one point of DC (12;9-4; 40pts.) for the final playoff spot in the East but time isn't on their side. With 28 games played, Jesse Marsch's team has taken the field more than any other MLS team this season and will likely need 12-15 points from their remaining matches, plus get a little help along the way to become just the third expansion team in league history to qualify for the playoffs in their inaugural year.

Good omen for Jesse, he was part of the first one that did it...

UP NEXT: More games with playoff implications as DC continues its torrid stretch, playing their fourth game in 10 days when they host New York on Wednesday, August 29 (7pm CT; Galavision) while Montreal visits upstart Columbus next Saturday, September 1 (6:30pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick)

Columbus Crew 4, New England Revolution 3

HIGHLIGHTS: Columbus 4, New England 3

This is the one that didn't go our way, though from the early-going, things looked good when some sloppy defending from the Crew saw Ryan Guy and Jerry Bengtson put the Revs up 2-0 inside 23 minutes. 

Showing the inconsistent nature of New England this season, the Crew took the lead though even before halftime as two stunning free kicks from Columbus DP Federico Higuain sandwiched around a Jairo Arrieta finish to take the home side into the half up 3-2.  Yes Fire fans, Higuain is the real deal and Crew head coach Robert Warzycha knows it.

New England stabilized at the break and would pull things level in the 81st minute when Lee Ngyuen sent substitute goalkeeper Matt Lampson the wrong way on a penalty kick. The Crew would have the last laugh minutes later as Arrieta ran onto Tony Tchani's through ball into the box and poked his second goal of the night past Matt Reis, ending a wild night of scoring at Crew Stadium.

Though there was little doubt New England's (6-14-5; 23pts.) season was over, this one hammered the coffin shut while the victory extended Columbus' (10-8-6; 36pts.) unbeaten run to four matches and kept the Crew within three points of sixth place Montreal and four behind DC for the final playoff spot in the East.

UP NEXT: Both teams are back in action Wednesday when the Crew will hope to win their third straight as they visit Philadelphia (7pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick) while New England will hope to snap their eight-match winless run when they welcome Chivas USA to Gillette Stadium (7pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick).

Houston Dynamo 1, Toronto FC1 

With Toronto well at the bottom of the East, any points they can take from higher teams helps a lot. This game marked midfielder Ricardo Clark's first appearance since returning to the Dynamo from stints in Germany and Norway and also provided a good view into the current form of the Fire's next two league opponents.

(HIGHLIGHTS)

Houston would take the lead in the 21st minute when forward Will Bruin ran on to Boniek Garcia's ball out of midfield before chipping onrushing TFC 'keeper Freddy Hall. The Dynamo threatened for the second goal throughout and would end the game witha  14-8 shots advantage but surrendered the equalizer and two points in the 84st minute when sloppy marking at the back saw Terry Dunfield head home Darren O'Dea's cross from the right.

With the result, Houston (11-6-9; 42pts.) remains in third place, just one point ahead of the Fire, with the good guys holding one game in hand. To say next Sunday's match against the orange-clad team at Toyota Park is a pivotal one would be an understatement. The result keeps Toronto FC (5-15-6; 21pts.) in the Eastern Conference cellar but also shows a team that can't be taken lightly heading into the home stretch.

UP NEXT: Houston takes a break from MLS action as they travel back to Central America for the second time in a week to face Honduran side Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League group play on Thursday, August 30 (Fox Soccer; 9pm CT) before heading to Chicago for next Sunday's game (6pm CT; NBC Nonstop, Galavision). Toronto FC will hope to do better in CONCACAF play when they host Santos Laguna in the Champions League on Tuesday, August, 28 (7pm CT; Fox Soccer) before continuing its spoiler bid in a visit to Sporting KC on Saturday, September 1 (7:30pm CT; MLS Live, Direct Kick).

A quick view at the Eastern Conference Standings after last night...

ON TAP TODAY...

First place in the Eastern Conference (Sporting KC) hosts the second place New York  in their first of three meetings over the next two months, live tonight at 8pm CT on ESPN2.

Fire fans holding out hope for the top seed in the East would do well to hope for a draw in the game ...