Sega 200. No that isn't a new gaming console.
Seeing as Gonzalo Segares has only missed three regular season matches the past two seasons, it seems a good bet that the eight-year Fire veteran will record his 200th competitive appearance for the Men in Red when the side welcomes the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park Saturday night.
The Costa Rican international enters the match having racked up 172 regular season, 12 MLS Cup playoff, 12 U.S. Open Cup and three SuperLiga appearances since his rookie year of 2005.
Not a bad haul for a guy that saw 34 other names called before his in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Sega Plays All Parts in the 2011 Capital Comeback
“I’m very excited,” Segares told Chicago-Fire.com Friday afternoon. “In this day and age it’s definitely not an easy thing to play 200 games with the same team. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
If not for an injury riddled 2009 campaign and his short stint in Europe during the first half of 2010, Segares would have easily hit the mark earlier. It’s still worth noting the veteran really has no equal in terms of consistency at the position over the course of the club’s 15 seasons.
“I’m always thankful for the Fire to have given me the opportunity. Since 2005, it’s been a long road -- I have memories of very good moments and some tougher ones but it’s been a very positive experience.”
Of those moments, Segares pointed to his first game as a professional (a 2-1 win over Colorado on May 21, 2005), his first goal less than a month later (4-3 loss at D.C. United on June 15). A less fond memory is his stoppage time equalizer that was disallowed in that year’s Eastern Conference final at New England.
More recently, Segares counts playing in front of a sold-out Soldier Field against Manchester United last July and his role in providing two assists in the stunning 2-1 stoppage time “Capital Comeback” last season at D.C as happy memories.
Nothing beats the time he hoisted the 2006 U.S. Open Cup in front of the Fire faithful at Toyota Park.
“That was my first championship as a professional. You can’t replicate a memory like that, especially at home.”
The second longest tenured member of the current squad, Segares recently stated on the All-In Podcast that he wouldn’t mind ending his career as a member of the Fire.
“It’s place where I was given my first chance to become a professional. If I get the opportunity I would love to stay here.”
After beating Toronto 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Fire face Canadian opposition again on Saturday, hosting for the first time Montreal at Toyota Park (LIVE 7:30pm CT on CSN Chicago). Winning games that you don't play well in is the sign of a good team and the Fire certainly showed that against TFC.
Montreal is still fighting to sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs but the Fire haven't lost to an Eastern Conference foe at home for over two years. Here are some things to look out for in Saturday night’s game:
WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)
Montreal's formation: back 3 or back 4?
Montreal manager Jesse Marsch has experimented with both a back three and back four this season. When fit, Nelson Rivas, Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari serve as the first choice defenders and you would be hard pressed to find a more experienced trio in all of MLS. The trio has hundreds of Serie A matches under their belt.
In Montreal's last game they played a back four system away against Columbus and I think we will see the same on Saturday night as the Fire's attacking ability and willingness to push the outside defenders up in support of the wingers would cause big problems for a three back setup.
Experienced defenders = lack of pace
Whenever an opposing team is asked about the Fire, the first aspect of the team's game that every coach and player talks about is "pace." Montreal's defenders may have all the experience in the world but with the Fire they come up against a team that has the ability to beat them with speed.
In his last two games, Patrick Nyarko has used his pace to devastating effect, blowing by the Houston defense to score after less than a minute and forcing the Toronto back line into making mistakes by applying pressure high up the field. Nyarko was also very dangerous on the break, especially after Toronto set pieces.
Patrick played very high up the field against TFC on Wednesday, almost as a third striker, and I think that will continue against the Impact.
Felipe - the often overlooked danger man
In attack, Montreal have two excellent wingers in Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp. For the past decade, both players have consistently helped their teams by scoring goals but more importantly netting assists.
WATCH: CHI 2, TOR 1 (9/12/2012)
For the Impact, both play in the wide positions and distract from Felipe who is more central. He can fade in and out of games but he is very capable of providing a killer assist. Philadelphia were so concerned about his attacking threat that they man marked him for the entire match. I don't think the Fire will follow suit, but they cannot solely focus on the wide men and neglect Filipe.
Fire offense: finish your chances
In the game against TFC on Wednesday night, the Men in Red were once again guilty of missing too many excellent goal scoring opportunities. Those misses made the game a lot closer than it should have been, especially after TFC pulled it back to 2-1 in the second half.
Pavel Pardo and Sherjill MacDonald were both guilty of missing after going 1v1 against TFC 'keeper, Milos Kocic. Obviously not every chance will result in a goal but I would expect that coach Frank Klopas was stressing the importance of taking your chances to the players this week.
With the playoff race in the Eastern Conference so tight, a goal or two here and there could be the difference between coming 1st and 3rd in the final standings.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire. Frank Klopas' side take their sixth win in seven matches with goals from MacDonald and Nyarko.
Despite a plethora of chances, the Fire didn’t make things easy on themselves Wednesday night in Toronto. Going up 2-0 with goals from Alvaro Fernandez and Chris Rolfe before halftime, the Fire had plenty of chances but couldn’t put Toronto out of its misery with a third goal.
Eric Hassli’s 79th minute strike and Toronto’s constant pressure late kept things interesting but Frank Klopas’ side found away to lock things down at the back and grind out another important three points on the road.
Ugly as it may have been at times, at the end of the day, Frank Klopas’ side still came away with a valuable away win and catapulted itself into second place in the East. The team now sits even on games played (27) and one point ahead (47) of the New York Red Bulls (46).
Heading into Saturday’s game vs. Montreal, there’s a chance the Fire could sit atop the East by the end of the weekend.
WEEKEND PLAYOFF IMPLICATION SCHEDULE
Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo – 7:30pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 6:00pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
D.C. United vs. New England – 6:30pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact – 7:30pm CT (CSN Chicago)
Let’s put things in perspective…
WATCH: Sporting KC 0, Houston 0 (7/7/2012)
One of two huge matches in the East this weekend is Friday’s nights encounter between first-place Sporting KC and fourth-place Houston at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
If Kansas City, who are just a surprising 4-3-3 at home vs. East teams loses, it sets the Fire up for a move to first on Saturday night. If that happened, the Dynamo could also potentially jump all the way into second place (at least momentarily) as well.
Lucky for the home side, Houston’s away form against the Conference has been quite poor (1-5-4), though one of those four draws did come at Sporting on July 7 (0-0).
The obvious hope for the Fire is to see the Dynamo earn their second away win against the East Friday night but I think anything more than a point for Houston is unrealistic.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, Houston Dynamo 1
- Further East on Saturday, third-place New York welcomes the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena. I wrote recently that I wasn’t yet convinced about the Crew’s surge up the East table because of the level of opponents they’d played during their run and in their last match, they fell 2-0 at New England.
In Saturday’s game, they travel to play a New York side that is unbeaten at home this season (9-0-3) and hasn’t even drawn against an East opponent at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0). Interestingly enough, at 4-6-4, Columbus has a much better away record than Houston and has gone 3-5-2 away in the conference, including a victory over Sporting KC.
Even with all that, it’s hard to go against New York’s home dominance this season. As it relates to the Fire, a draw would be a fantastic result for a few reasons but I have to think Red Bull comes away victorious this weekend.
PREDICTION: New York Red Bulls 2, Columbus Crew 1
WATCH: New York 4, Columbus 1 (4/7/2012)
- Sixth place D.C. United hosts New England Saturday night at RFK Stadium in a match where all three points will be quite necessary for the home side.
Most of MLS was in shock Thursday morning with the club’s announcement that captain Dwayne DeRosario had suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out 10-12 weeks, effectively ending his season.
Even still, United (41) sit one point back of the final playoff spot, even without DeRo are better than New England and much like Red Bull, have fantastic form at RFK this season, going 9-1-4 overall and 7-1-3 against Eastern opponents.
While New England bounced back with a home win against Columbus before the international break, their away record is abysmal (1-10-2; 0-7-2 in the East) and I suspect their skid down the East table continues Saturday night.
PREDICTION: D.C. United 2, New England Revolution 0
- In the last Eastern match of the night, the Fire will know exactly what they have to do to move into first place or retain second place by halftime against Montreal.
If all the predicted results above hold and the Fire win oer the Impact, they'd stay in second place but sit just one point back of East-leading KC.
The Fire’s home form this season (9-2-2; 7-0-1 vs. East) combined with Montreal’s away record (2-11-1; 2-6-1 vs. East) certainly favor the Men in Red in this match, though Klopas’ side will be coming off just three days rest while the Impact will not have played in two weeks.
Also remember that while the first-year MLS side is just three points out of the final playoff spot, they only have five games remaining while almost everyone above has seven.
A loss for Montreal on Saturday would come as close as could be to effectively end the Impact’s bid for a playoff place in their first MLS season.
PREDICTION: Saturday night will certainly be a battle but I think the Fire take their 10th home win of the season and move within one point of first in the East with a 2-1 victory (what other score line is there?) over Montreal.
Over the summer, we presented 15 memorable games and goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.
The tallies are in and with October 8 looming now less than a month away, we’re set to begin unveiling the “#Fire15” in a new five-segment video series presented by TrueCar.
To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.
Our first three honorees are Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe.
Jesse Marsch – While never flashy, Marsch was a near constant cleaning up messes in the Fire midfield from 1998-2005. Coming to the club after spending his first two MLS seasons with reigning champions D.C. United, Marsch would go on to appear in 259 competitive matches (fifth all-time) while tallying 23 goals and 32 assists in his eight seasons with the Fire.
As Tom Soehn points out in the video, Jesse’s lasting legacy with the Men in Red stem from the five domestic titles he won during his time in Chicago.
Logan Pause – Now into his 10th season as a member of the Chicago Fire, Logan Pause has long credited the likes of Marsch and Chris Armas as players he modeled his game after. The current Fire captain is the second longest tenured member of the club behind C.J. Brown and with 295 career appearances sits behind only the 13-year veteran (372) in games played for the club.
Not that he needed to prove he belonged on such a list but the captain’s ability to play through two broken ribs and a collapsed lungs at Philadelphia on August 12 was heroic. It was only bested by the fact that he returned to the field to help the Fire win 3-1 over Houston exactly three weeks later.
No more explanation necessary here…
Chris Rolfe – Perhaps the closest thing the Fire have had as an answer to Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe stands behind the former U.S. international at second on the club’s all-time scoring list with 45 goals across all competitions.
Rolfe would definitely have more in a Fire shirt if not for often being played on the wing during his first tenure in Chicago. There was also the two and a half years he spent away in Denmark that have his goal tally a bit lower than you would think.
However, Rolfe’s return to the club back in April was one of the most welcome acquisitions the club has made in recent years and now a few years older, the striker will look to continue to chip away at Razov’s goal record.
Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com as we name the rest of the #Fire15 players in the month leading up to the club's Anniversary match on Wednesday, October 3 vs. Philadelphia (TICKETS) and 15th Anniversary Party to be held Monday, October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. (TICKETS).
After a massive home win against Houston and a morale boosting come-from-behind draw against Santos Laguna in an exhibition match, the Fire travel to Toronto full of confidence for Wednesday night's game at BMO Field. In contrast, Toronto are missing some key players through a combination of injury, suspension and international call-ups. Here are a few things to look out for in Wednesday night's match:
Terry Dunfield - how to replace a missing captain
The Fire lost captain fantastic Logan Pause due to lung and rib injuries against Philadelphia on August 12. Fortunately, the Fire had strength in depth with Alvaro Fernandez and Daniel Paladini filling the central role in Logan’s absence. Toronto do not have the luxury of a Paladini or Fernandez to replace their missing captain Terry Dunfield who, like Pause, is the heart and soul of the team.
Dunfield, like Pavel Pardo covers a lot of ground in the center of midfield and is essential to breaking up opponents attacks but also starting them for TFC. He has also scored some big goals this season including one in a recent away draw with Houston. Dunfield's absence is good news for Chris Rolfe who will look to exploit the more inexperienced potential replacements for Dunfield, namely Aaron Maund and Matt Stinson.
Long balls - TFC's bread and butter
Toronto have found some success in the long ball tactic, often bypassing the midfield altogether and looking for a flick on or knock down from Ryan Johnson and co. Johnson will be missing on Wednesday night but this will not stop TFC looking to kick it long at every possible opportunity.
The Fire back line will need to keep a close eye on TFC striker Eric Hassli who is always on the shoulder of the last defender looking for a ball over the top or a flick on. The long ball tactic also put a heavy emphasis on winning second balls. Stopping TFC from getting scoring chances from second balls is essential.
Possession - looking for more of the ball vs. TFC
In the Fire’s last game against Houston, their opponents had more than double the amount of possession. Though the Fire set up to play that way, I think we will see a much different game plan Wednesday night. The Fire will look to possess the ball for long stretches, looking do draw out TFC and create space for the attacking players to move into.
Kansas City held over 70% of the possession against TFC on September 1 and eventually broke them down, coming behind to win 2-1. The Fire will need to be patient, but their constant pressure should lead to goals.
When broken into 15 minute intervals, TFC have allowed the most goals this season from the 75th to 90th minute - another reason for the Fire to stay patient on Wednesday night.
Darren O'Dea - potential weak link in the back
In an interview on Monday night, TFC center back Darren O'Dea looked exhausted, and who could blame him? O'Dea had just returned from Kazakhstan where he played the full 90 minutes for the Republic of Ireland in their 2-1 victory on Friday. O'Dea also admitted that he was battling a cold but said he would be ready for Wednesday night.
Though very good in the air, O'Dea lacks pace and his partnership with Richard Eckersley is in its infancy. The Fire should be looking to get in 1v1 situations with O'Dea as often as possible bearing in mind his transatlantic excursions and illness. The Fire have managed to do this in the recent past, most notably when Sherjill MacDonald was able to turn Bakary Soumare and set up Chris Rolfe for an easy finish against Philadelphia.
The TFC coaching staff have been singing the praises of O'Dea since he joined the team but Wednesday's match is a potential banana skin for the Irishman .
Prediction: If the Fire stay patient, the goals will inevitably come. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry.
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.
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.
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with midfielder Patrick Nyarko. Now in his fifth season with the Fire, Patrick has scored three goals and leads the team with six assists. A native of Kumasi, Ghana, Patrick was a standout at Virginia Tech before he was drafted in the first round (7th overall) of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Patrick took the time to answer our Burning Questions about his table tennis prowess, his sneaker collection and what a typical day entails for him.
Always on the Inside: You’re often regarded as one of the best table tennis players on the team. How did you get to be so good?
Patrick Nyarko: I put in the work while I was growing up. It was such that if you played a game, it was a commercial table tennis table, so you had to pay if you lost; you didn’t want to waste your lunch money. So you had to win by all means. If you didn’t get good you were going to lose all of your money.
WATCH: Nyarko Scores in the 1st minute vs. HOU
AOTI: Your bio in the media guide says your favorite thing to eat is soup. What kind of soup and where’s the best place to find it in Chicago?
PN: Peanut Butter soup. I’ve not found the best in Chicago. For really authentic soup you have to go back to Ghana so I haven’t really found anything close. I don’t really eat it. I don’t want to offend my mom.
AOTI: One of your strengths as a player is your speed. Are you fast in other aspects of life?
PN: I do eat pretty quickly. I’ve been in cars with some pretty crazy drivers like Dominic [Oduro], and I don’t think I drive as fast as him but I don’t like to drive slow.
I like to get things done quickly, if I have to. If you go in my apartment it’s really not clean because I don’t have to because I live alone, but if I actually have to I’ll get it done quickly.
AOTI: As a professional athlete you have a bit of a non-traditional schedule. What’s a typical day like for you after you leave Toyota Park?
PN: Once I go sit on my couch I’m stuck for the rest of the day. If I have to run errands and stuff I do it all before I go home. Even if it takes six hours, I’d like to get it done before I sit on the couch. I don’t know what’s wrong with the couch or where it came from, but I just cannot get off of it.
I usually watch a little TV, catch up on shows and world news. I like Tyler Perry shows like “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne.” And I love “Two and a Half Men.” I’ve started watching every season.
AOTI: Are there other soccer teams or leagues that you follow?
PN: I’m a huge fan of Manchester United. I don’t miss an EPL game if I don’t have to. I’m really not huge into other leagues. I’ll watch Barcelona and I’ll watch Real Madrid play but I don’t watch the Italian league or Bundesliga. It’s very limited. I love the EPL.
AOTI: You’re a bit of a sneaker head. What got you interested in shoes and what’s your favorite pair that you own?
PN: As a kid I always loved sneakers but growing up in Africa we weren’t that well-off to get enough sneakers. I had one pair per year. When I came to the States for school and I got two pairs in college, it was like Christmas for me. I signed with adidas and I started getting all these sneakers. The love of sneakers grew after I signed with them. They make some great shoes.
The best pair I have are from adidas; they’re called Ransoms.
AOTI: You currently have three goals on the season. This is only your second multi-goal season after 2009 in which you scored four goals. To what do you attribute your offensive output this season?
PN: I think I’ve always had adequate offensive production, not in terms of goals but I led the team in assists for the last couple of years. I think this year I’m more comfortable. I’ve been working a lot with the coaching staff in terms of confidence in front of the goal and stuff like that. I know I still have a ways to go but I’m happy it’s imporving and hopefully by the end of the year I can have a couple more goals.
AOTI: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
PN: Not really. I just show up and I’m good to go.
AOTI: What is the best advice you have ever received?
PN: Always persevere. If you try once and you don’t succeed that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Just keep persisting. I’m very persistent in more ways than one.
It didn't seem a likely result but the Fire and a few other teams in the East got playoff help as the low-lying New England Revolution knocked off the high-flying Columbus Crew 2-0 Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium.
Riding a four-match winning streak, popular wisdom had the Crew continuing their run, but in this match, they looked nothing like the Columbus team we've come to know over the past month. The visitors rarely threatened the New England goal and the home side which has seemed down and out for a while, rattled off a rather dominant performance.
The Revs took a 1-0 lead through Dimitry Imbongo's "clean up" effort in the 53rd minute and looked to have a second goal seven minutes later, but Stephen McCarthy's header was negated by an offside call. With the Crew only down 1-0, the most curious case moment of the night came when Columbus defender Chad Marshall (pictured above) headed a ball over 'keeper Andy Greunebaum and into his own net to give the Revs a 2-0 lead. The goal was puzzling as Marshall seemed to give up on the ball when it looked as though he could have saved off the line.
Unfortunately for Robert Warzycha's side, their best efforts didn't come until the 87th minute when a two-shot sequence was thwarted by by Revs 'keeper Matt Reis, to complete the New England victory.
The result means the Crew have missed out on what would have been regarded an easy three points and an opportunity to move all the way to third in the Eastern Conference standings. Long story short, everything in the East playoff race stayed the same Wednesday night but Thursday night, the Houston Dynamo will make their bid for a return to third in the East as they host Real Salt Lake at BBVA Compass Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: Revolution 2, Crew 0
It’s been a few weeks since my last blog on this subject and while not much has become easier to predict, at least one thing has become clearer.
Last time, there was a question about Columbus’ ability to make a run towards the playoffs. With that blog written just two days before the Crew began their current four-game winning streak, the question has been answered and their form currently has D.C. United as the current Eastern Conference outsiders. Still, I'm not yet convinced of the Crew's playoff credentials and I break down everyone's playoff hopes below...
WATCH: SKC 2, TFC 1 (9/1/2012)
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 71
Average Opponents Points: 40.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Houston (9/14), at New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: It goes without saying that Sporting KC controls its own destiny for the top spot in the East but two games away to second place New York (the Red Bulls are 9-0-3 at home) combined with a home date against the Fire (who’ve beaten Sporting both games this season) and trips to Montreal (10-3-2 at home) and Columbus (8-3-2 at home) will make finishing top of the East difficult for KC.
Lucky for Peter Vermes’ team, they’ve been the best MLS side on the road this season, going 7-4-2 away from LiveSTRONG Sporting Park. They’re definitely going to be in the playoffs but even with a four point advantage at the top of the East, they could finish as low as third.
2) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 7 (5 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 36.8
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)
The Rundown: If they keep their home form, New York is my favorite to finish top of the East. They’re not only undefeated at home this season (9-0-3) but haven’t even drawn with an Eastern Conference foe at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0 this year). Consider that their two remaining away matches are at New England and Philadelphia, you could make a strong case that New York might not lose another game this season.
Of course playoff implications often turn things on paper upside down and New York does face their two closest competitors in three of their remaining home matches. Basically I’m saying, first in the East is really New York’s for the taking if they want it.
WATCH: CHI 3, HOU 1 (9/2/2012)
3) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 36.2
Remaining Schedule: at Toronto FC (9/12), vs. Montreal (9/15), vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)
The Rundown: As evidenced by the fact that the team jumped from sixth to third with one win Sunday night, the difference from third to six in the East is just three points and the victory over Houston gave the Fire the best odds of teams three through six to make a bid for a top two finish.
Like New York, Frank Klopas’ side has been rather spectacular at home this season, going 9-2-2 overall and 7-0-1 against Eastern Conference opponents. With that current form, it’s a decent expectation that the Fire should at least take points from all of their remaining four games at Toyota Park.
If the team takes four wins from their final eight, they’re definitely in the playoffs. The rub here comes when you consider the remaining road games, which have the Fire visiting Eastern Conference cellar dwellers Toronto and New England.
Save the road games in Kansas City and New York, higher expectations will have the Fire winning six of their remaining eight matches. If they do that, they’ll be in serious contention for a top two spot in the East but that will rest on how the team does in those two six-pointers.
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 7 (4 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 63
Average Opponents Points: 34
Remaining Schedule: vs. Real Salt Lake (9/6), at Sporting KC (9/14), at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)
The Rundown: Of the seven teams still in the playoff picture, Houston definitely has one of the easiest schedules. If they can take points from their next two games vs. RSL and at Sporting, all five of their remaining matches are winnable.
The biggest question mark for Houston is how they balance their remaining two CONCACAF Champions League group games (9/20 vs. CD FAS, 10/23 vs. Olimpia) while staying in the playoff race. Dominic Kinnear has done a pretty good job of getting result when his team is coming off a competitive game played four days or less before, going 4-3-6 this season.
The fact that the team got four points from their two visits to Central America earlier this month should give them a little ease but having a crowded fixture list across two different competitions will be difficult. The Dynamo’s saving grace will be their unbeaten home form at BBVA Compass Stadium where they’ve gone 8-0-5 since opening in May.
Like the Fire, four wins from their final seven should do the trick but picking up a point or two extra will get them in for sure.
WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)
5) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 66
Average Opponents Points: 35.1
Remaining Schedule: at New England (9/5), at New York (9/15), vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29), vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).
The Rundown: Riding a six match unbeaten streak of which the last four have all been victories, Columbus is certainly the hottest team in MLS and have pushed their way from potential spoiler right into the thick of the Eastern Conference race.
While the four straight wins are nice, consider that all four were against the bottom four in the East and three were at home. Furthermore the victories against New England and Montreal on the weekend came with stoppage time goals. I’m not saying they’re not a legitimate contender and summer acquisitions Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta are reason for concern for any of the Crew’s upcoming opponents but I do think remaining games at New York, Chicago and vs. Sporting KC could prove a blow to their chances.
Basically, if the Crew beat someone above them, everyone in the East has more cause for concern.
6) D.C. United
Current Points: 41
Games Remaining: 7 (3 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. New England (9/15), at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)
The Rundown: D.C. are the team that find themselves currently just outside the playoff bubble by one point but of the seven teams still in the race, have the easiest schedule with their opponents average point total sitting at 30. Their next five matches all come against sides that are pretty well out of their respective playoff races but one thing to note is that D.C. hasn’t traveled well to the west coast this season, going 0-3-1, making their September 29 trip to Portland an interesting one.
If D.C. does the business in those five matches, they should be in a good spot to play for positioning in their final two games against Columbus and the Fire to close out the season.
7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 54
Average Opponents Points: 36.4
Remaining Schedule: at Chicago (9/15), vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)
The Rundown: Simply put, Montreal are still in the race but with only five matches remaining, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be in the top five come season’s end. That doesn’t mean the first-year MLS side can’t muck things up for other playoff contenders.
The team’s road form this season (2-12-1) is likely what will keep Jesse Marsch’s side out of the postseason but their play at Stade Olimpique and Stade Saputo (10-3-2) is what has them in this position. All teams contending for a playoff spot should put a lot of emphasis on the team’s home match vs. Sporting KC on September 22 – I’ve got it marked as one of my top games where teams can make up points on the current Conference leaders.
Even considering Montreal has only taken points in three road matches this season, they’ll still look to finish their first MLS campaign strong and so the Fire and Dynamo would be wise to take them seriously as they make their own playoff push.
Stopping Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia is one key to three points Sunday vs. Houston
Having had over ten days to ponder the loss to DC, the Fire take to the field Sunday night at Toyota Park against the Houston Dynamo. (NBC 5.2/Galavision 6:00pm CT) Houston have had their own slips of late but will be looking to take away some points in a massive Eastern Conference match up. Here are a few things to look out for tactically.
Right back starter: Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan?
In the past few games, Jalil Anibaba has started over Dan Gargan at right back. Though not playing in his natural position, Jalil has used his athleticism and speed to make the transition to the outside. After a tough game against DC, some fans were calling for the return of Gargan but, against Houston, Anibaba’s aerial abilities will be needed.
Everyone knows that Dominic Kinnear’s team makes its living on scoring from set pieces. The Dynamo are a big side and Anibaba's height will be needed to deal with the likes of Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji
WATCH: Fire vs. Dynamo Preview
Double team in the left: Neutralize Kandji
In Houston's last two league matches, Kandji had two completely different performances. Against Toronto, especially in the first half, he was excellent, running at the defenders, latching on to long balls over the top and also bringing the ball inside to link up with his strike partners and advancing play makers.
The week before against Columbus, Kandji was effectively shut out of the game by being double teamed. Columbus also didn't allow him any room to operate out wide which made him a non-factor in the game. If the Fire continue their favored formation, either Patrick Nyarko or Alvaro Fernandez will need to drop to support Anibaba and prevent Kandji from getting in 1v1 situations.
Stop Davis and Garcia: plugging the middle
Against DC last week, Chris Rolfe was unable to operate because United packed the midfield. I can see the Fire deploying the same technique against Houston and their two deep lying play makers: Brad Davis (if healthy) and Boniek Garcia. Both are given license to roam, and do so eagerly knowing that recently returned midfielder Ricardo Clark is staying behind to protect the back four.
The movement and passing ability of Davis and Garcia is Houston's biggest threat and if the Fire can stop both players from creating, it will cut off the supply line to the attacking three. The outside midfielders, especially Fernandez who has experience playing in the middle, will need to tuck in as much as possible to help out Pavel Pardo and Daniel Paladini.
This, of course, leaves a lot of space out wide for the outside backs to move into but it is a worthwhile risk if it prevents Davis and Garcia from linking with the attacking three.
Biggest strength and biggest weakness: midfield
For all the talk of Houston's attacking talents from midfield, the weakness of the 4-3-3 system is that it only contains one defensive midfielder. Ricardo Clark may be one of the best holding midfielders in the league but he can easily be exploited if the Fire can transition quickly from defensive to attack.
Columbus did this to perfection against the Dynamo in their recent 2-2 draw. Houston's center backs like to come forward to help Clark out in an attempt to cut off balls into the target forward (in the Fire’s case, Sherjill MacDonald) and this creates gaps that someone like Chris Rolfe can move into.
In this formation, Rolfe should have more room to create and we all saw how effective that was against New England. Because Houston is playing away from home, they won't be as inclined to attack as the would be at home but on the occasions that they do get men forward, the Fire must be ready to pounce.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 1, Houston Dynamo 1 with Sherjill MacDonald bagging his second goal for the Fire.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.