So the nerves are there. The Fire hold their playoff fate in their own hands heading into Sunday’s season finale vs. New York. (3:30pm CT My50 Chicago, TWCSC Wisconsin, 4pm CT UniMas) Of course, the team could know prior to kickoff that they’ve already qualified but there’s a reasonable enough chances that they might not…
Depending on results in D.C. and Columbus, the Fire may need to win against a Red Bull side going for the MLS Supporters Shield. It’s not the best feeling in the world but it is exciting and needing to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the season is something the Fire have gone through before.
The Chicago Fire sort of meandered through their first season at Cardinal Stadium in Naperville and probably weren’t helped by losing Chris Armas to injury and DaMarcus Beasley for U.S. World Cup duty in the middle of the season.
As of August 18 they still looked a safe bet to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs for a fifth straight season until a four-game losing streak from August 24-September 14 put their hopes in serious doubt.
The Fire went into their last match on September 22 vs. Columbus (which also happened to be the last game of the MLS season) sitting ninth out of 10 MLS teams. One point behind the eighth-seeded MetroStars, the team could have even been eliminated from contention the night before if not for New England’s 3-0 win over the Jersey-based side.
With the Fire needing just a draw to qualify and the Crew to clinch first in the East, the Men in Red shook off the cobwebs, getting second half goals from Ante Razov (who had suffered a dislocated right shoulder the game before) and Piotr Nowak to take a 2-0 lead in the 81st minute.
A stoppage time strike from the Crew’s Freddy Garcia wasn’t enough to grab top spot as the Fire ran out 2-1 winners, leapfrogging Metro and Kansas City into seventh in the MLS playoff table.
The least memorable of these three scenarios, 2004 was the first time the Fire missed out on the postseason and the team’s 2-1 loss at New England on October 16 was probably the most devastating regular season defeat of the club’s seven-year existence.
The Fire needed just a draw to advance to the postseason while the Revolution needed a win.
The game was perhaps best defined by a three minute span early on in the second half which saw Revs midfielder Clint Dempsey put the home side ahead in the 55th minute and the Fire’s Nate Jaqua respond one minute later before Steve Ralston closed the scoring in the 58th.
The 2-1 New England win pulled the Revs level on points and gave them the tie-breaker, with a 2-1-1 head-to-head record on the season.
The most memorable of these three scenarios. After a rocky start to the season which saw Fire head coach Dave Sarachan dismissed on June 20, the Fire rallied down the stretch, going seven games unbeaten before the regular season finale vs. LA Galaxy on October 21.
A sellout crowd of 21,374 saw David Beckham make his first (and second to last appearance in Chicago) and really the Fire only needed a draw in the match to make it into the postseason.
A missed 41st minute sitter by Chad Barrett and back-to-back attempts from Wilman Conde and Paulo Wanchope in the 63rd made it seem like a draw would be all the capacity crowd would see but then magic happened…
Having come on just moments before in stoppage time, Calen Carr collected a pass from Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the right and chipped John Thorrington into space where the former Manchester United man lobbed his effort over the on-rushing Joe Cannon to give the Fire an emotional 1-0 victory over the Galaxy and send the team to its ninth MLS Cup playoff appearance.