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06 September 7:58 am

The MLS Team Writers Union continues to grow and so I thought, why not reach out and get my counterpart's takes on relevant questions surrounding their team in the leadup to matches...

In today's Three Questions, I go old school with one of the longest tenured Team Writers in MLS (and doppelganger match for Rob Riggle), Sounders FC's Matt Gaschk...

Jeff Crandall: With Wednesday night's victory over Chivas USA, the Sounders continue to be the hottest team in MLS having won six of their last seven matches.  What has been the main contribution to the recent success?

Matt Gaschk: The greatest difference over the last seven matches has been the commitment on the defensive side of the ball.  With four shutouts in the last seven matches, the defense has jumped to tops in the West, allowing just 1.04 goals per game, but it has been much more than just the back four.  The defensive spark has come from all over the field and the team finally seems to have clicked into place and pulling in the same direction. 

With so many changes to the roster over the off-season, it took a lot of time for people to find their roles.  Now, even though they have yet to play at full strength, they have been able to find different ways to win games because the core of the team has kept them on the right path.

JC: How much do the international absences of Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey and the injury to Brad Evans effect Seattle's chances for three points on Saturday?

MG: Dempsey has been a tremendous boost for the team – both on the field and in the locker room, where he has helped re-energize a group that was already driven to succeed.  However, his addition has been a boost to what was already a solid team, so while losing him means less talent on the field, it doesn’t necessarily mean a loss in the team dynamic. 

Johnson has been on fire of late with three goals and one assist in his last four matches, and he has proven to be highly important to Seattle’s success.  When he is engaged, he is among the more lethal finishers in the league. 

Without him, Seattle turns heavily to Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle.  Martins has been on the shelf over the last month with an ankle injury, but Neagle has stepped up when asked to, scoring six goals – including four game-winners – this season. 

The loss of Evans, if he is unable to play, takes greater effect when Seattle loses its depth. He can play so many different roles for the team, not the least of which is as a coach on the field, that when he is available it is almost as though Sigi Schmid’s roster has additional players on it. 

Servando Carrasco has filled in in the middle of midfield and Marc Burch has provided cover on the left side, so there are players available to fill roles, but it is the depth beyond those spots that has thinned with injuries to Shalrie Joseph and Steve Zakuani.

JC: Obafemi Martins has been out for nearly a month with an ankle injury but seems to be on the comeback trail.  What has the Nigerian DP added for the Sounders this season and is there a chance he returns Saturday?

MG: After the 2012 season, Sounders FC ownership vowed to find their Robbie Keane.  They sought a player with high levels of European success who is still driven to succeed at a high level when presented with the new challenge of playing in MLS.  Martins fit that bill and, while he may not be on the MVP-caliber scoring clip that Keane has seen this season, he has provided a world-class striker that not only scores his own remarkable goals, but also creates space for his teammates to find the scoreboard as well.

Although he has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, his seven goals and three assists in just 15 appearances have been an offensive boost.  He has yet to take the field with Dempsey – and won’t this weekend while Dempsey is away on international duty – but when he does, it will make for one of the strongest attacks in MLS.

06 September 7:10 am

After leaving two points on the field last Sunday, the Fire head to the Pacific Northwest, traditionally not a happy hunting ground of the Men in Red, for a Saturday night matchup with Seattle (9pm CT on NBCSN) . The Sounders are hitting form at the right time, surging to six wins in their last seven matches. Here are some things to keep an eye out for from a tactical perspective.

Taking advantage of speed – hitting Seattle on the counter attack

The Fire’s bread and butter in away matches is the counter attack, lulling teams into a false sense of security and allowing them to push men forward before forcing a turnover and countering with numbers. A number of factors contribute to this.

In midfield, the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Arevalo Rios, Alex, Logan Pause and Daniel Paladini are very capable of forcing turnovers by applying pressure or reading the game and intercepting passes. With Rios away on international duty, Alex, Pause and Paladini will battle it out for the central midfield berth.

Alex is equally capable playing on the outside, and with him, Nyarko and Dilly Duka, the Fire have ample speed for to push the break. In attack, I expect the Fire to stick with Rolfe and Magee again due to their quickness.

Juan Luis Anangono is also an option but if the Fire go with the counter attack strategy, there is no need to a target striker in the starting eleven.

Taking advantage of set pieces – punishing Seattle on free kicks and corners

WATCH: Anibaba, Segares talk Saturday's match

In Seattle’s last three or so matches the Sounders have been very sloppy defending set pieces. In the second half of last Wednesday’s match against Chivas in particular, the LA team could have easily scored two or even three goals from free kicks, but for some better finishing.

The Fire worked quite a bit on set pieces at training on Thursday, clearly seeing Seattle’s obvious issues in that area. The Men in Red scored their first goal from a corner in last week’s match against Houston, and with Magee and Duka putting balls in and players like Austin Berry and Larentowicz challenging in the box, the Fire certainly have the ability to cause the Sounders more problems in this area.

Keeping an eye on Rosales and Yedlin – set pieces and crosses from wide

Seattle are a similar team to Sporting KC with both teams having a very dangerous creative midfielder, as well as outside defenders that like to get forward and get crosses in the box.

Though he hasn’t started every match for the team Mauro Rosales leads the Sounders with seven assists, two more than American Brad Evans. Rosales’ favorite target to look for from set pieces and crosses has been Eddie Johnson, picking the American out for a number of headed goals in recent matches.  Johnson will also be missing on Saturday but Rosales has a plethora of other players to look for.

Rosales also has the rare ability to put dangerous balls into the box from deep positions, especially on free kicks. Seattle’s Homegrown defender Deandre Yedlin has had an absolutely stellar rookie year, even being named to the MLS All-Star team. He combines well on the right with another missing player for Seattle, Brad Evans.

Without him, Yedlin will be required to pick up the slack. As with the Kansas City match, the Fire players must not pay too much attention to Rosales and neglect Yedlin because if he is given time and space, it could be costly.

Prediction: Mike Magee gets back on track and the Fire win 1-0.

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

 

05 September 3:23 pm

The final installment in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 5 designer Jordan Parks.

Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1)Danny Carlino (Option 2)Freddie Christiano (Option 3) and Eric Puente (Option 4) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!

What was the inspiration behind your design?

The inspiration for my third kit design came from Chicago’s rich industrial history, the beautiful city skyline, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These three elements helped fuel my concept and display the true honor, passion, and tradition of this club and this great city.

The blue to white gradient in my design begins with the rich navy blue of the club, incorporates the light blue of the famous Chicago flag, and fades to a bright white to show the eliteness of this powerful city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

The subtle abstract view of the skyline represents the flames that ravaged the city in 1871 and the building blocks which made this city bounce back from devastation to become one of the most economically powerful in America.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

After looking at past kits worn by the Fire and researching other clubs past and present designs, I decided to simplify mine and keep the base color white; paying tribute to past away kits worn by the Fire.

While the Chicago flag is a well known and recognizable symbol of Chicago, I tried to stay away from blatantly using the flag as the base for my design as it has been done before and many Fire supporters want this as a permanent kit option rather than a third kit.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

I believe my design is unique because of its elegance and simplicity while showing physical and historical attributes of the great city we call home.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

As a young designer, seeing my design being worn by my club would be absolutely exhilarating. I have been a Fire supporter for many years and having this opportunity with the club has already been rewarding in itself.

The reality of having my concept turned into a final solution is what I stand for as a designer. I work to succeed and push to exceed. Seeing the mighty Fire wearing my kit design in victory would be the best reward I could ask for. I believe with a fresh third kit option, the Chicago Fire can bring home another MLS Cup in style. Go Fire!

05 September 1:59 pm

The fourth in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 4 designer Eric Puente.

Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1)Danny Carlino (Option 2) and Freddie Christiano (Option 3) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!

What was the inspiration behind your design?

I wanted to design a kit that celebrates the Chicago flag and really represents the city. It was meant to be for the fans of the Chicago Fire, but also other people just wanting to show their love and pride for Chicago. One of the team’s past official alternate kits in 2005 was also a Chicago flag inspired design and many fans since have coveted that rare and unique kit.  

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I wanted to give fans the opportunity to have another flag kit that they would feel proud wearing in Toyota Park, Chicago, and anywhere else in the world. I wanted the kit to also attract people who love the Chicago flag as a symbol of the city, who aren't necessarily Chicago Fire fans. The flag design has become very popular in Chicago and everyday you see people wearing it on a t-shirt or a hat or reinterpreted into a Chicago team logo.

I felt this could be an opportunity to make a kit that Chicagoans could embrace and at the same time spark more of the city's interest into the Chicago Fire team.  

What do you feel is unique about your design?

I think the detail in my design is what makes it unique and why it was ultimately chosen over the many other Chicago flag inspired kits. The Chicago flag's three white bands on my design are meant to revisit the famous white band of the Chicago Fire jerseys from the team’s inaugural year.

The back of the neck says "Chicago" and under it is the municipal symbol; The Y shape inside the circle represents the three branches of the Chicago River that connect within the city. Another detail that is not very clear from the image on the contest website is the inside of the collar that has the year 1871 and 1997 separated by a single six-pointed star, which is meant to represent the Great Chicago Fire and the club’s founding.

These little details make the kit very unique from the other kits, because the whole design begins to represent the city of Chicago. The design celebrates the traditions of Chicago, honors the history of the city and the club, and evokes the passion of the citizens and Chicago Fire fans. 

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

Honestly, it would be the most incredible thing. I've been a Chicago Fire fan for seven years, the last three of which I have been a season ticket holder. I'm a huge fan and to be a small part of this club's great history would be truly amazing.

It would be great to see the players on the field in the jersey I designed, but I think it would be more rewarding to see all the fans, especially those in Section 8, because after all they would be the ones who ultimately picked my design.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

I also have my own collection of Fire jersey from every different style as far back as 2001 and having my design be a part of that collection would be kind of fun to see. As a designer having just graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology with a Bachelors in Architecture, it's a sense of accomplishment to have this design picked as a finalist, and if it's picked as the club’s third kit it could be a great start to this young designer's career.

Overall, having my design chosen as a the club's third kit means that I'll be a small part of The Chicago Fire history which I think is the best prize of all, being a part of this club that I love. GO FIRE!

05 September 8:18 am

The third in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 3 designer Freddie Christiano.

On Wednesday I spoke with Mike Sever (Option 1) and Danny Carlino (Option 2) about the inspiration behind their designs. More Q&A's coming later Thursday.

What was the inspiration behind your design?

I was hoping I would get a chance to answer a question like this during the competition. The design looks simple, but there were a lot of different things that inspired the design. It is obvious from all the designs presented that we as fans wanted some representation of the Chicago flag back on the jersey. I did not want the jersey to be a remake of the old Puma design so I thought about how I could place the flag somewhere on the kit where it had meaning. I wanted to have meaning not only to a fan, but anyone who will wear the jersey.

In my full submission to the Chicago Fire I included the words “#WearYourHeartOnYourSleeve”. This became the overall inspiration for the jersey and why I placed the flag on the sleeve. We are really passionate about sports here in Chicago and we aren't afraid to let anyone know how we feel. I think we can convey that passion to the players on the field playing for our team as well. By placing the Chicago flag on the sleeve, it is a reminder to the players their emotion, pride, and heart on the field is matched by that of those in the stands and through out the city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I didn't want to distract from the sleeve element, so I based the rest of the design on something I learned from playing soccer, which was to “keep it simple”. I wanted a color to help make the sleeve stand out, but it also needed to have significance.

I have seen some comments regarding my choice of black and it not being related to Chicago and compared to other cities kits. I actually found that color inspiration from our skyline. Any way you view the Chicago skyline, you are seeing two of the most iconic buildings of our city: The Willis Tower and  John Hancock Building. These two buildings do not stand out only because of their size but also because of their color.  This was also the perfect color to make the sleeve stand out and maintain integrity for the main color of the kit. The vertical strip was a simple way to bring more of flag inspiration into the design and tie it up to the Fire crest, linking the two together. When the stripe wraps to the back of the jersey it fades to the silhouette of the Willis Tower.

The Fire crest needed to be as unique as the overall design. I was inspired when looking at the crest on my 1999 Chicago Fire kit. Although, it is not clear from the image posted the entire crest in my design would be of this metallic threading.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

Besides the choice of color, every design element of this kit has significant meaning. This is more than a kit that I have designed, it is about interconnecting players, fans, and a city. It establishes bonds of tradition, honor, and passion felt by all when carrying the flag on their sleeve.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

Giving the flag significant placement and a motto, “Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve”, helps establish these bonds and makes everyone aware what it means to be from Chicago and play for our club. The motto will also give supporter groups new chants to create when players take the field in an intimidating black kit!

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

If chosen, I would feel happiest knowing the majority of fans feel as passionate about this kit and its meaning as I do. They understood it can be as powerful as connecting players to fans on another level.

The Fire is a team I grew up supporting and would love to be part of the club from an opportunity like this. Having your kit made forever links you to the team and Its history. That would be something special.

04 September 2:26 pm

Over the next few days we'll be rolling out interviews with each of the five #cf97ThirdKit finalists asking for the inspiration and unique qualities of their entries.

Earlier today we spoke to Option 1 Designer Mike Sever. Below are the responses from Option 2 Designer Danny Carlino...

What was the inspiration behind your design?

My design is inspired by the Chicago municipal flag. Ever since the Fire had a flag themed jersey in 2005, fans have clamored for another one. That one was light blue with the four stars across the chest and the flag opposite the team badge. Ever since then I’ve been tinkering with ideas for a new adaptation of such a jersey. I liked the idea of making this one predominantly white with light blue trim so as to give that concept a new look.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

The Chicago municipal flag is beautiful in its simplicity. I tried to make sure that every part of the jersey reflects the Chicago flag and accentuate that beauty and simplicity. I went with a white jersey not only to differentiate from the 2005 iteration of Fire 3rd kit, but to also reflect the white background of the flag itself. The two blue stripes across the chest replicate those on the flag. I placed the Quaker sponsor logo in between the two stripes. I knew some fans might have an issue with the Quaker logo taking the place on the jersey where the four red stars from the flag would typically go. To help remedy that, I used a red Quaker logo to keep the flag’s color scheme. The fact that Quaker is a Chicago-based company, has an over century-long history with the city, and is supporting our club should make that aspect more acceptable.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

With that, I still had to find a place to put the stars because without them, it can’t be an authentic flag jersey. I placed the four stars along the right collar bone parallel to the adidas stripes and a full Chicago flag on the lower left hem of the jersey. I wanted the flag to be represented as much as possible, so I made the adidas stripes along the shoulder white with the light blue in between to represent the three white areas of the flag with the two light blue stripes in between. The sleeves also reflect the flag with the area where the MLS and American flag patches being white while bordered by the light blue shoulders and cuffs.

The back of the jersey also features two elements that have never appeared on a Fire kit. The number “1871” appears in red in the traditional Fire font just below the collar to represent the year of the Great Chicago Fire for which the club is named. Below that is the seal of the city that features the date of incorporation of March 4, 1837 as well as the Latin motto “Urbs In Horto,” which means “City In A Garden.” 

While not pictured, I’d also like to have the name and number on the jersey printed in red to keep in line with the red accents of the stars, the Quaker logo, and the 1871.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

You want there to be an emotional attachment to the club’s jersey. If you’re designing it yourself as a team supporter before there was even a team, that emotion increases immensely. I’ve been fiddling with logo and jersey ideas before the Fire even officially had that moniker. Let’s just say this process may have been more difficult had the team actually been named the “Rhythm.”

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

After the 2005 flag jersey, I’ve designed several versions even buying adidas jerseys that fit the color scheme and putting patches on it so I could have one of my own. Just having adidas produce my design is a thrill. The thought of the club walking out of the tunnel at Toyota Park on a sun drenched day, seeing them earn three points, celebrating with Section 8, playing a big international club in a friendly, and ultimately raising a cup in that kit truly gives me chills. I appreciate your support in making my dream our reality in this third kit.

04 September 12:55 pm

Over the next few days we'll be rolling out interviews with each of the five #cf97ThirdKit finalists asking for the inspiration and unique qualities of their entries.

First up, Mike Sever and Option #1...

What was the inspiration behind your design?

My inspiration was the history of both the team and the history of the City of Chicago. While the sky blue and white color is obviously a nod to the Fire's popular "Flag Jersey" from 2005, there are other references that longtime fans may recognize. First, the jersey returns the club's traditional white stripe to the front across the chest, but with a subtle twist. The two navy stripes inside the white chest stripe not only allude to the two blue stripes in a white field on the Chicago city flag, but are also a throwback to the navy and white stripes on the Fire's home and away uniforms during their trophy-winning heyday of the club’s early years.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I decided to put the Chicago flag on the back after being unable to find a way to put it on the front without the jersey looking too crowded. I added the year 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, which despite its destructive power, also gave Chicago a unique opportunity to start fresh and rebuild itself into the city it is today.  I decided to use 1871 instead of 1997 (the year of the club's founding) because I've always felt the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was named in remembrance of the historical event of the 1871 Fire (and the subsequent resilience to rebuild Chicago even bigger than before), rather than merely naming the team after the phenomenon of light and heat. Besides, doesn't "The Great Chicago Fire" have a nice ring to it?

What do you feel is unique about your design?

All five final designs have some degree of sky blue and white in them, which is not surprising as Fire supporters have been clamoring for a Chicago-flag-themed jersey since its last appearance in 2005. However, Design #1 is the only one that blends the team's history with its present. No other jersey design uses the Chicago flag, the Fire's traditional white chest stripe, AND a nod to the early teams whose success in adverse conditions at Soldier Field and Cardinal Stadium helped pave the way for the team we see today. 

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

While a third jersey often gives teams an opportunity to mix up their look with different colors and patterns, I still want people to be able to see this jersey on the street or on TV and instantly recognize it as the Chicago Fire. One of the great things about the sport of soccer is how even though teams change their jerseys seemingly every year, the looks remain the same, with very few exceptions. Real Madrid is always going to be all white. Celtic is always going to be green and white hoops. Liverpool will always be red and Chelsea will always be blue. In that vein, no other team in MLS has ever worn a single stripe across the chest, and no other team in MLS plays in the colors of the Chicago flag. This jersey is something new, but it is familiar, and unmistakably Chicago.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club’s new third kit?

I'm not even thinking about that yet. I'm not anything close to a professional designer, so it's already an honor for my design to be included with the four other finalists, and it's beyond my imagination to have the club I've been following since I was a kid wear a shirt I designed. I mean, I remember trying to draw the old "Fire truck" logo in the margins of my 8th grade notebooks after the team was announced in 1997, and I still have the ticket stub from my first-ever Fire game 15 years ago.  I didn't even think my design would make it this far in the contest. It's crazy for me to even think about winning, but I'd like to encourage everyone to vote for Design #1!

03 September 10:32 am

Gut punched again! Maybe not as bad as the Philly gut punch game from May, definitely not as painful as the Open Cup gut punch, but Houston’s smash and grab draw is the kind of result that could shake a team. That said, we’ve been here before this season. The Fire have proven they can rebound from disappointing results and it’s too early for the playoff panic, there are too many games left to play. Games like Sunday’s hurt, but now, a few days after, it doesn’t seem like any sort of total season KO.

What it is: another example of this team’s schizophrenia and oft-infuriating inconsistency. I mean, how delicious was that first half?

READ: Playoff Math - Still only two points out

Dilly Duka was terrorizing, Alex has taken his move to the outside with relish, Arevalo Rios and Jeff Larentowicz are working well together, Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee keep popping up in annoying positions to track, and the Fire broke down a solid Houston defense, creating chance after chance after chance.

But because this game rarely if ever makes sense the way it should, the Fire let their guard down for a crucial period and relinquished a few points at home. It’s not the result of a dominant team, but then, that’s not what this Fire team is. It’s a team still trying to lock down its identity and self-expectations and the good news is that there’s still some time to do it.

One thing the team has to get used to is Frank Klopas’ efficiency approach. “They had possession,” he said after the game, “but we are the ones that created the better chances.” This is a common adage for Klopas this year. He’s proven time and again that he’s comfortable ceding to possession to the other team, letting them play with it and knock it around sideways as much as they want - as long as, when the Fire have the ball, they make use of it to be dangerous.

Before you scoff, remember that it’s the same approach that Jose Mourinho used at Chelsea and Inter Milan to beat Barcelona. It means counter attacks, quick passing, explosive breaks, all of which we saw against Houston. But it also means taking the (potentially few) chances you’re given as well as long periods of focus and discipline to keep your cool and keep your shape as the other team knocks it around.

With the other team passing around, especially on a hot, sun burnt afternoon like Sunday’s, it can be easy to loosen up and sit back at times.

That causes two problems…

First, as the defense falls backward, it creates more space in front of them for the other team to move forward. While it was all good for Houston to pass around the Fire’s half 30-40 yards from goal, as the Fire’s defense moved too far back later in the game, Houston pushed closer and closer, and started finding space around the edge of the area (where the goal eventually came from). But as Gonzalo Segares said in his comments after the game, it’s not always just the defense’s fault for falling backwards, especially when they’re under attack for so many minutes.

READ: Magee, Segares, Klopas lament two dropped points Sunday vs. Dynamo

The second challenge with sitting back is that the attackers have to hold the ball up front to let the lines move up, and they have to take the open counter attacking chances that come when the other team presses to equalize. Juan Luis Anangono was unusually ineffectual when he came on Sunday, but maybe the Fire were just unlucky. If Magee’s second half shot off the post had gone in, it’s hard to see Houston getting their draw.

The Fire have proven to be a tough team to beat when they score first this year, and much of that is down to Klopas’ efficiency approach as well as the focus and discipline of the defense. In that sense, Sunday’s gut punch was an outlier. But if there’s one thing for sure about the Fire this year, it’s that their previous games are not necessarily indicators of their future ones, and no matter how many times they successfully see out the tight ones, it’s the gut punch games that we remember.

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

 

03 September 9:48 am

After an interesting weekend of results, no teams actually changed spots in the Eastern Conference standings, though the group at the top all sit tied on points. Down below, Philadelphia and New England each held serve in spots four and five with weekend draws while the Fire missed a chance to leapfrog Houston with their home tie on Sunday.

The breakdown:

1) Montreal Impact

Current Points: 42 (12-7-6)
Games Remaining: 9 (4 home/ 5 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-1-3 / 3-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 69
Average Opponents Pts: 35.1
Remaining Schedule:  9/8 @ NE, 9/14 vs. CLB, 9/17 at SJ**, 9/21 vs. VAN, 9/24 vs. HER** 9/28 @ CHI, 10/4 @ HOU, 10/12 vs. NE, 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Despite their top spot in the conference, Montreal has had an abysmal road record vs. the East (1-6-2) so while they could have taken a big step over the weekend, perhaps a 0-0 draw at Philadelphia was them punching above their weight. September will be make or break time for the Impact as the team will play six competitive matches in a span of 20 days. If they hope to advance out of their Champions League group, they’ll likely need to win one of their two remaining games. meaning squad rotation will be prudent through the end of the month.

The Impact will hope to improve their Eastern Conference road record with another away trip to New England on Sunday.

2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 42 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home / 3 away)
Last 5 Games: WLDLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-2-3 / 4-7-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 35
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ HOU, 9/14 vs. TFC, 9/22 vs. FCD, 9/29 @ SEA, 10/5 vs. NE, 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: Red Bull did exactly what they had to do, downing MLS bottom dwellers D.C. United 2-1 at home Saturday night. With four of their remaining seven matches at home and no Champions League to worry about, if they win their games at Red Bull Arena, they should have no issue making their way to a postseason appearance. What they do with their away games should determine their positioning.

New York faces a six-pointer away to Houston on Sunday. Win and potentially distance yourself from the pack, lose and things will begin to get interesting.

3) Sporting KC
Current Points: 39 (12-9-6)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home / 4 away)
Last 5: WLLWL (6pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-3 / 5-5-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 63
Average Opponents Pts: 29.9
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 vs. CLB, 9/17 vs. RES**, 9/21 @ TFC, 9/27 vs. PHI, 10/5 @ CLB, 10/9 at HOU, 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Like New York, Sporting KC did the business with a 2-1 win over Colorado Saturday. Already with six points in their two Champions League matches, Sporting likely needs just two points from their remaining matches to win the group and have a lighter league schedule than fell CCLers Montreal and Houston. Two matches with Columbus and one each vs. Toronto and D.C. should see Sporting easily clinch and could help push them towards the top spot by the end of October.

This weekend, Sporting face a Columbus side that lost at home to 10-man Seattle on Saturday, fired their coach Monday and will face Houston at home Wednesday. If the Crew lose to the Dynamo, they’ll be all but eliminated from playoff contention, making KC’s home encounter even easier.

4) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 39 (10-8-9)
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home  / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLDWL (4pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-3-5 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Pts: 33.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 @ SJ, 9/14 vs. HOU, 9/27 @ SKC, 10/5 vs. TFC, 10/12 @ D.C., 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: Three points at home Saturday would have seen Philly move to within one of first in the East but a draw against Montreal keeps them all on their lonesome in fourth place. With seven games remaining, the Union have a mixed type of schedule, facing Toronto FC and D.C. in back-to-back weeks in October but also with a games against Houston and Montreal and two matches against Sporting.

A west coast trip to San Jose, where the Earthquakes have dropped just one game this season (8-1-4) looms large this week, with a loss likely pushing the Union back down to the East bubble.

5) New England Revolution
Current Points: 37 (10-9-7)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 6-4-3 / 4-5-4
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Pts: 33.75
Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. MTL, 9/14 @ CHI, 9/21 vs. D.C., 9/28 vs. HOU, 10/5 @ NY, 10/12 @ MTL, 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: Perhaps no team controls their own destiny like the Revolution. With eight games left, the Revs has an even split of four home and four away but perhaps more interesting is that five of their next six matches are against Eastern Conference foes that sit in the Top 7 positions. Should they be able to navigate well through those matches, their home and home with Columbus to end the season could be all about positioning.

New England needs to take advantage of Montreal’s poor road form Saturday to climb up the table.

6) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 37 (10-8-7)
Games Remaining: 9 (5 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: DLWLW (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-2-3 / 3-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 64
Average Opponents Pts: 34.3
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 @ CLB, 9/8 vs. NY, 9/14 @ PHI, 9/21, 9/25 vs. WC**, vs. CHV, 9/28 @ NE, 10/4 vs. MTL, 10/9 vs. SKC, 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: Much like New England, Houston faces a number of teams they’re battling for playoff positioning with over the next month and like Montreal and Sporting KC, also need to balance Champions League play. The Dynamo will be favorites to take three points on the road at Columbus Wednesday but will close out a seven game/22-day stretch at home Saturday to New York. Houston holds fate in their own hands but balancing Champions League with games against conference foes will be the key to their postseason push.

Simple enough: Win at home, draw on the road, they should be in.

7) Chicago Fire

Current Points: 35 (10-10-5)
Games Remaining: 9 (3 home / 6 away)
Last 5 Games: DWLWW (10pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 8-4-2 / 2-6-3
Maximum Possible Pts: 62
Average Opponents Pts: 31.7
Remaining Schedule: 9/7 @ SEA, 9/11 @ TFC, 9/14 vs. NE, 9/21 @ CLB, 9/28 vs. MTL, 10/4 @ D.C., 10/12 @ FCD, 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: Sunday’s late 1-1 draw at home to Houston was no doubt a gut punch but the Fire are far from out of the playoff race.

The Good News: The team continues to have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the East with two games against Toronto and one each against Columbus and D.C.

The Bad News: Only three of nine remaining matches are at home and the Fire’s road record is towards the bottom in the conference.

And even though the Fire have never beaten Seattle and failed to win on turf since 2010, they have a real chance to take three points away to the Sounders with the home side missing Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, Leo Gonzalez on Saturday night.

Four to six points in the team’s next two away matches (remember Toronto FC on September 11) will set them up well for a return home vs. New England on September 14. Twice this season the Fire have had the chance to leap into fifth place and failed, mid-September should be a target date for them to AT LEAST be there.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 29 (8-13-5)
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home / 4 away)
Last 5 Games: LLWWL (6pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 5-5-3 / 3-8-2
Maximum Possible Points: 53
Average Opponents Pts: 38.6
Remaining Schedule: 9/4 vs. HOU, 9/7 @ SKC, 9/14 @ MTL, 9/21 vs. CHI, 9/29 @ FCD, 10/5 vs. SKC, 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: If Sunday’s draw to Houston was a gut punch for the Fire, I’m not sure what to call the Crew’s 1-0 home defeat to 10-man Seattle on Saturday.

Still, Columbus have a small shot at the playoffs and their coaching change Monday makes things a bit more interesting. Keep in mind that seven of their eight remaining matches come against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture but should they lose midweek to Houston, the weekend trip to Sporting KC could kill whatever hope they have left.