Playoffs magic number - 12?

With less than half (actually 38% for the Fire) of the MLS regular season already on the books playoff battles are already starting to take shape.  In the Western Conference Real Salt Lake, San Jose, and Seattle seem to have staked a claim to the top of the table with Colorado and Vancouver currently occupying the fourth and fifth spots.  Chivas USA, Portland, FC Dallas, and shockingly the Los Angeles Galaxy will certainly be locked in a dog fight for their playoff lives once the international break is over and a full slate of leagues games resumes on June 16.

The East looks to be in similar shape with DC, New York, and Sporting KC looking comfortable at the moment.  Columbus, Chicago, New England, and Houston make up the middle of the pack vying for spots 4 and 5 with Montreal not too far behind and Philadelphia and Toronto mired at the bottom after woeful starts.  With a change in the playoff qualification format this season to include the top five finishers in each conference, home wins against immediate competitors become vital.  The Crew and Revolution held serve over the last seven days and the Fire will have the same opportunity in the coming months.

With a 5-5-3 record - what has to be done to ensure that the club doesn't miss out on playoff action for a third consecutive season?  Adding another legitimate threat at striker would be a big step but somehow managing to get to 12 wins appears to be the bench mark.

The 2011 season might have ended a bit differently if just two of those league record 16 draws had been a victory.  A record of 11-9-14 would have pushed the Fire past New York for the tenth and final playoff spot with 47 points on the season.

Since MLS abolished shootouts after the 1999 season only once in twelve subsequent seasons has a club with 12 victories failed to qualify for post season play.  The Miami Fusion missed out on the playoff tournament by just two points after compiling a 12-15-5 regular season record in 2000.  Since then nine teams have failed to qualify with eleven wins but only one managed to win more games than they lost (Kansas City at 11-9-12 in 2005) and even then they also fell short by two points.  Furthermore, since the league scrapped the three division format and adopted the East/West Conference alignment in 2002 no team with twelve victories has failed to qualify.

From the inaugural season in 1996 until the end of the '99 season MLS used the shoot-out to break ties and even then only three teams with twelve victories failed to qualify.  From 2002 through 2010 when the league switched to the conference format eight teams qualified for post season each year and six teams with 10 wins were able to qualify.  Nine and eight win seasons were even enough in some years but those days seem to be long gone even with an expansion to ten playoff participants.

Due to the parity and even nature of the clubs in the East this season it would seem that simply getting into double digits won't do.  Eleven may allow a team to sneak in but twelve should do it.  Here's a look at the history of bare minimum MLS playoff participants since the introduction of the two conference system in 2002.


Kansas City qualified in the West with a 9-10-9 record while NY/NJ was left out of the Eastern picture with an 11-15-2 mark.


Los Angeles made it with an unimpressive 9-12-9 and DC United got in with a slightly better 10-11-9 record.


New England qualified with an ugly 8-13-9, San Jose also did at 9-10-11, as did Colorado at 10-9-11.  Dallas was left on the outside with a 10-14-6 record.


Things got more respectable as every team that qualified managed to record double digit victories while Columbus (11-16-5) and Kansas City (11-9-12) failed to get in.  The league increased the number of matches each team played from 30 to 32.


This was the last season that a club with less than ten victories was able to earn a playoff berth.  New York got an invite after a 9-11-12 finish.  The Conference alignment unfortunately left other teams with more wins out in the cold.  Los Angeles (11-15-6), Real Salt Lake (10-13-9), and Kansas City (10-14-8 in the East) all had more wins than the Red Bulls.


Cuauhtemoc Blanco arrived to resuscitate the Fire en route to a 10-10-10 mark and a playoff spot.  That club had less victories that season than any other playoff competitor.  The league reduced the number of matches each team played from 32 back to 30.


New York gets in from the East at 10-11-9 and Real Salt Lake qualifies in the West at 10-10-10.  Colorado (11-14-5) and DC (11-15-4) don't make it.


The minimum number of victories this season is eleven as three teams reach that mark and qualify.  FC Dallas however does not at 11-13-6.  Toronto FC 10-11-9 and Colorado at 10-10-10 weren't good enough. This was the Fire's last appearance at 11-7-12.


Kansas City finished with an 11-13-6 record but failed to make the playoffs.  FC Dallas and Colorado got in with twelve wins apiece.


The league increased the numbers of playoff teams by 2.  Ten teams qualified and the fixture list was increased from 30 to 34.  The New York Red Bulls squeaked in ahead of the Fire with a 10-8-16 record equaling Chicago in record-breaking draws.  The expansion Portland Timbers missed out in the West with an 11-14-9 mark.  All contenders were .500 or better.


The Fire are mired in the middle of the pack with several teams in the Eastern Conference after losing road games to teams that were either in bad form or directly below them in the standings.  Losses in Portland, Columbus, and New England have put a damper on some optimism after good results against Real Salt Lake and Sporing Kansas City at home.  Recent results along with the debacle in the US Open Cup combined with the sour taste of consecutive losses to rivals Columbus and New England heading into a two week break has justifiably left supporters restless but it's not all bad news if you step away and look at the remainder of the home schedule without panic.

After hosting New York on June 17 the Fire will have a chance to return the favor against the Crew on June 23.  The struggling Galaxy follow on July 8 and Vancouver comes in six days later on July 14.  August has two winnable matches as Toronto FC and New England visit Bridgeview in that month.  September is a bit more difficult with Houston, Montreal, and Columbus again coming in.  October home matches feature Philadelphia and DC United to close the season.  With eleven matches remaining at home and ten on the road it's not inconceivable to imagine a bare minimum of mediocrity at 7-7-7 in remaining games which would likely push them into a playoff spot.

That is not exactly something to aspire to but it's the reality of their current standing in the league.  For the record, the goal of management should be to do much more than the bare minimum required to sneak into the playoffs and I'm not advocating mediocrity as something that should be palatable to any supporter.  The objective reality is that they're not abysmal and two consecutive losses doesn't signify the end of the season but they also haven't exhibited enough to really consider them as a top club in the East either.  This team is much better than the side than that started 2011 with a 1-4-8 record and it shouldn't be confused with that club.  That side was boosted by the addition of Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo in July but the rest of the league has adjusted to the tactics that made them successful late in the season.

What can this club do to end the playoff drought?  Get to twelve victories it seems.......oh, and add another threat up top.




Filed under: 2012 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


Leave a comment
  • CONCACAF Champion's League 2012 draw was announced today....,,12813~2798152,00.html

    LA, Real Salt Lake, Houston, Seattle, and yes Toronto FC are the MLS clubs participating. The Group Stage starts on July 31.

  • In general an MLS team could safely get into the playoffs averaging
    1.5 points per game, (51 points) although the last team in would probably get in with 48 points. To get to the 51 point level the Fire will need to pick up 33 points in the last 21 games (1.57 per game) although they may have an outside chance if they get 30 points in their last 21 games (1.43 per game).
    They can't afford letting more points slip by, especially at home or/and against weaker competition. Less than 48 total points can become pretty iffy

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    Thats another good way to look at it. Home points are a must.

  • Great analysis, Guillermo. A bit depressing, though. I'm not sure we're going to make the magic mark of 12. And getting there will not be "half the fun" to quote - uh, the Muppets. Our near miss last season felt agonizing, though the signs were encouraging at the end.


  • In reply to Modibo:

    They won't get there unless they start moving right along.....footloose and fancy free.......

  • The Dayton Dutch Lions, the team that eliminated the Fire PDL team and Columbus Crew advanced to the USOC Quaterfinals after beating the Michigan Bucks 2-1.

  • Interesting stuff from Matt Doyle on Nyarko and why the Fire need a legit finisher up top.....

  • fb_avatar

    It's funny this is even news.

  • The next 8 games are probably the most rugged part of the Fire's schedule with no easy wins in sight, however wins against Columbus
    and Houston would be a big step up in getting in the playoffs, since
    most of the remaining 13 games would be against weaker teams and very winnable.
    Getting at least 8 points in the next 8 games would put the Fire in a very solid position unless there is a late season collapse.

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    8 points out of 24? isn't that setting the bar a little low? GR what kind of outcome would you expect if the fire do not make any moves this summer? and have there been any rumblings about making any moves? i read that one about the right back that captain's red star but that one does not make any sense at all.

  • In reply to penapirata:

    If they don't make any moves I think they'll continue to move along with the rest of the mid-table teams in the East and it will come down to razor thin differences for a playoff spot. I think they can still qualify though, but that shouldn't be the goal. The goal should be to get in and have a legit chance to win it. The Red Star thing is nonsense but they are trying to make a move for a forward....whether or not they're able to get it done is another story.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    now is this trying to get a forward legit talk or is it pr fluff for the media? because we all know andrew and he is about looking good in the media.

  • In reply to penapirata:

    Legit talk

  • In reply to penapirata:

    I said 8 points in the next 8 games, not in 21 games, after those 8 games the schedule is much easier and under ordinary conditions the Fire should be able to win the majority of those games, it's just that if we can't manage 8 points in the next 8 games we'll be hardpressed to make the playoffs.
    Right now I see the Fire with a minium 46 points on the low end and 54 points the high end, given if no major additions are made to the roster. 54 points would put us in, 46 would be very iffy.

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    sorry, i meant 8 points out of a possible 24 points. to me thats like saying to the team "hey lets set the bar lower so its easier to achieve". they should be trying for at least i think 14 points out of the next 8 games. that would be my guess if they start playing well. i don't see how it gets any easier after those 8 games. yeah you throw in 2 games against TFC and Philly; but we still have to play DC twice who is top of the east and playing pretty well at the moment, NY again, montreal whose play has improved, SKC who we know is dangerous, houston who we have never had any luck against, and NE twice again. i don't see how its going to get easier. on paper we should be able to tie or beat most of those teams but we shown this year we can't or we barely do beat them. for example we should've beat NE and we lost, we beat TFC away but barely, tied montreal away, beat philly but should've beat them by more than 1 goal. so the rest of the season i think is going to be a struggle, especially if there are no changes to the roster.

  • Union trades Danny Mwanga to Portland for Jorge Perlaza. You have to wonder what goes through Peter Nowak's mind out there. Good trade for Portland.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Let's just package our #1 overall pick who scored 12 goals last season and is 20 yrs old for a player they picked up on trial and scored 6 goals who's 26 yrs old. Thats a great deal. Lets do it.

  • In reply to waam:

    This would only seem to make sense if they were clearing room for a DP move. Mwanga was making $356,250.00 guaranteed this year while Perlaza was pulling down $115,000.00.

  • The Red Bulls loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders in USOC play last night had a Fire tinge to it. Former back-up Nick Noble is the HCI goalkeeper and 2012 draft selection Lucky Mkosana scored for Harrisburg. Mkosana had an extended trial with the Fire but was not offered a contract. He signed with HCI at the end of May.

  • fb_avatar

    BTW - why couldn't we have traded for Danny Mwanga and Juan Agudelo? We had all the trading parts these teams were looking for anyway. Would have been nice. But eh, nothing comes lucky for us anymore.

  • According to this report out of Italy, the Fire offered Alessandro Del Piero a deal worth $1.5 million but it appears he is headed to River Plate after getting an offer for $1.9 there......

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Nice to see them offer big money to someone if true. Im not all for Del Piero or all against him either, but its frustrating to come up short on a player. I think its clear to all of us that a FINISHER needs to be added to the squad.

    Hope they look at this is getting their 1.5 back as credit and spend it on someone, rather then pocketing it and saying, "we tried".

  • In reply to KChance:

    That was pretty much my reaction. I'm not entirely sold on Del Piero. He'll be 38 in November and he's only scored 11 goals in the last two seasons at Juventus. River Plate can have at him at $1.5.

  • Jeff Crandall is hosting a team trivia event tonight. Check out details here...........

  • If the Del Piero rumor is true and the Fire made an offer, I find it a bit disheartening that the best striker option they found that was viewed as a "game changer" was a 38 year old at the end of his career who took two seasons to equal Oduro's output in one.

    There are numerous trends to be had there.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    I'm having a hard time buying big money interest in Del Piero or David Suazo for that matter. Both would be hopeful
    gambles that there is something left in the tank and I don't think they're looking to roll the dice after the Castillo experiment. There was some talk of interest in Santos striker Oribe Peralta who is 28 and coming off a big playoff run in Mexico. That seems to be the type of player they should be pursuing, unfortunately he re-signed on a five year deal with Santos after reportedly receiving an offer from the Fire.

  • houston just signed a dp and not a bad signing according to a honduran i work with:

    also in agreement with jeff. a bit disappointing if they are going after a 38 year old. sounds like a ticket seller move if anything.

  • MLS all-star voting begins tomorrow......

    A panel of MLS media nominated Johnson, Segares, Pardo, Pappa, Grazzini, and Oduro as Fire representatives.

    I'm not sure how this panel of media who allegedly know MLS could vote Johnson ahead of Nyarko.....

  • Chicago Tribune takes a look at how Bridgeview residents are paying (and paying) for Toyota Park..........,0,3094089.story

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    now would this cause a raise in rent for the fire which could lead to higher ticket prices?

  • In reply to penapirata:

    I'm not sure what the contract terms were but the rent is probably a fixed amount over a number of years.

  • Good result for the Fire and the rest of the Eastern Conference tonight as Houston gets thumped in Vancouver 3-1.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    we will have to see of the fire can take advantage.

  • also, any news on the striker front?

Leave a comment