Playoff math - Can the Fire win the East?

With a battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference looming this Friday night the Fire hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.  The two year playoff drought is over, now it's just a matter of how high they can finish in the standings.  Beating Sporting Kansas City for the third time this season should indicate that Chicago is the front runner and favorite to capture first place in the conference.  A draw or a loss will set up a fight for positioning with Sporting, New York, and possibly Houston.  Taking a look at the remaining fixtures it's difficult to prognosticate where each club will finish given the unpredictability of MLS play and the slim margins in quality between clubs but I'll give it a go anyhow.  Here's a breakdown for each of the remaining contenders followed by my predicted order of finish.

New York Red Bulls

Currently sitting in third place (14-8-8 50 pts) the DP-heavy Red Bulls still have a shot at the top spot despite inconsistent play and occsaionally shoddy defensive work.  They have three home games remaining including a rematch with Sporting KC at Red Bull Arena and a visit from the Fire which could be a match that determines the Conference winner.

9/29 v. Toronto FC - should be a win against a team at the bottom of the league.

10/6 v. Chicago - The Fire usually play well against NY so I'll go with a draw.  More on this below.

10/20 v. Sporting KC - I don't see New York  losing two in a row at home to the same squad in a short period of time. Win.

10/27 @ Philadelphia - should be a win.

That combination of results would put the Red Bulls at 60 pts (17-8-9).

Houston Dynamo

They were shockingly hammered by Philadelphia this past weekend but things are looking up.  All four remaining games on the schedule will be played at home where they are difficult to beat.  Top that off with a list of four teams that will be playing for nothing other than pride and it's not difficult to see Houston running the table to end the season.  They're currently clinging to the 5th place spot on 46 points (12-8-10).

9/29 v. New England - The Revolution are playing out the string...again

10/6 v. Montreal - probably their most difficult match but Montreal isn't a pushover

10/20 v. Philadelphia - the Union are a constant in just about every contender's schedule to close the season and have a chance to play spoiler.  I doubt they do it to Houston again.

10/27 - v. Colorado - another team playing out the string

Four wins and maximum points would leave the Dynamo with 58 pts (16-8-10).

DC United

I thought they would have the most trouble claiming a post season spot a few weeks ago but three consecutive wins, albeit against not so impresive competition in New England, Chivas USA, and Philadelphia has pushed them into fourth place and a tie on points with New York at 50 (15-10-5).  They won't have Dwayne DeRosario back any time soon and they're not out of the woods yet.  They've got three road matches remaining and United struggles when visiting (4-9-1).

9/29 @ Portland - The Timbers are typically compeitive at home so this won't be easy.  Loss.

10/6 @ Toronto FC - United has already beaten them once in Canada.  Can they do it again?  Draw.

10/20 v. Columbus - this could be the deciding match in the battle for the final playoff spot. Win.

10/27 @ Chicago - The Fire just don't lose to Eastern Conference teams at home.  Loss.

This finish would leave DC United at 54 points (16-12-6) and locked into an all out mad dash to the finish line against another familiar foe.

Columbus Crew

Federico Higuian ingnited a string of victories upon joining the squad but things have cooled off of late.  They've got three home games remaining so winning every match at Crew Stadium is vital to their survival just to have a chance.  Currently on the outside looking in with 45 points (13-11-6).

9/29 v. Philadelphia - The Union pop up again looking to spoil someone's day in the East.  Win.

10/7 v. Sporting KC - A must win against a difficult opponent.  If they don't get a result here the next match could bury them.  Win.

10/20 @ DC United - See above.  This should be a good one to watch.  Loss.

10/28 v. Toronto FC - If you can't beat the Reds on the last day of the season you probably don't deserve to make the playoffs.

Three wins is a tall order and they'll need Higuain to rediscover the form he had upon his arrival.  If they can pull this off they're tied with DC at 54 (16-12-6).  They would lose out to DC in a "Goals Scored" tie-breaker if this is the case.

Sporting Kansas City

They've ridden their blazing start to their current standing at the top of the table (55 points, 16-7-7) but they've had trouble scoring consistenly all season.  They need results in their next two matches or Chicago and possibly New York will surpass them.  I questioned their high pressure style early in the season and doubted they could keep up the intensity displayed in their first seven matches over the course of a 34 game season.  They've held up pretty well so far but there is that question about a team they can't seem to beat coming into town on Friday.

9/28 v. Chicago - The big one.  Losing to Chicago for a third time this season will make it very difficult to hold onto the top spot.  This is close to a must win for Sporting so I'll count this one in the "W" column.

10/3 @ Columbus - This one is very important for both clubs especially if Sporting can't pick up a result against the Fire.  Columbus may need it more.  Loss.

10/20 @ New York - After handing the Red Bulls their first home loss of the season last Wednesday I don't see them repeating the feat in the span of one month.

10/24 v. Philadelphia - Three points a must.

A so-so finish with two home victories and two road defeats will leave Sporting in a position to edge out New York even if the October 20 match doesn't go their way.  61 points and an 18-9-7 mark isn't bad but is it enough to hold onto the top spot in the East?

Chicago Fire

The club is within one victory of surpassing a team that started the year with seven consecutive wins.  That's pretty impressive and illustrates that the Fire is indeed the hottest team in MLS at the just the right time.  Two difficult road matches are sandwiched around some very winnable games and the Fire seem poised to take adavantage of that.

9/28 @ Sporting KC - The Fire have been able to forge results consistenly against Kansas City over the last few years and have already beaten them twice this season.  Dropping this match wouldn't be the end of the world but a win would appear to put them in the driver's seat.  A draw wouldn't be a bad result either.

10/3 v. Philadelphia - A 15th Anniversary commemoration at half time, Peter Nowak in the house with his former employer and legal nemesis serving as the oppponent, and the Fire haven't lost to an Eastern Conference club all season.  There's no reason to believe it happens here.  Win.

10/6 @ New York - The Fire beat them in Chicago 3-1 back in June and lost 1-0 in a bizarre afternoon midweek game in July.  I can see these two teams splitting in a rubber match.  Draw.

10/20 @ New England - Another chance to dig it in againt an old rival especially after losing in New England on June 2 in arguably the Fire's worst game of the season.  Win.

10/27 v. DC United - Yet another opportunity to infilct some damage upon an old rival.  Did I mention the Fire don't lose at home to teams in the East?

Ten points over the last five matches will give the Fire 63 on the season and a remarkable 19 wins (19-9-6) which should be enough to outlast both Kansas City and New York if my predictions hold true.  Of course this is MLS and just about anything can happen over the course of the next month.  Hold onto your hats, here's what the final table could look like come playoff time.

1. Chicago Fire                         19-9-6 63 pts.

2. Sporting KC                          18-9-7 61 pts.

3. New York Red Bulls            17-8-9 60 pts.

4. Houston Dynamo                16-8-10 58 pts.

5. DC United                             16-12-6 54 pts.

6. Columbus Crew                   16-12-6 54 pts.

One big advantage for the Fire is the additional fifth game remaining giving Chicago a "game in hand" over the other clubs vying for playoff position.  Sporting is still very capable of holding onto the top spot if they can defeat the Fire and go on to pick up a result in Columbus the following week.  If not, Kansas City supporters and front office staff will certainly be feeling the sting of losing to their "rivals" yet again.


Programming Note: Tune into ESPN 1220AM every Wednesday morning at 7:30 where I'll be discussing the Fire and MLS with show hosts Alex Uribe and Hernan Espinoza.

ESPN 1220 is a Spanish language sports station but our MLS segments will feature both English and Spanish content.

You can tune in live or listen via stream on their website.



Filed under: 2012 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • Not sure I'm as optimistic as you are, Guillermo. But it's an interesting scenario. I have to keep reminding myself that at mid-season, I doubted whether we'd even be in the playoffs. This is a much better team now than it was then, in my opinion. If they can do something special in KC, I may actually become a believer.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    I tried to be as impartial as possible when looking at each individual result for every club. Games against DC at home, Philly, and New England should be wins. The Fire will win the East if they can get a result out of one of the two "big" games at KC and/or New York.

    The East will probably come down to a one result margin between the top three clubs and any one of them can certainly win it.

  • Last year's playoff push was exciting because the Fire got super hot in the end. Same thing this year, but we're definitely looking at this thing from a different angle. I'm still amazed that they have done so well AFTER losing Grazzini. I thought he was our only hope.

  • In reply to Madvora:

    You really have to credit Klopas for keeping things together and not missing a beat after losing Grazzini and Pappa. I thought the Grazzini loss would be more damaging than it has been as well. Chris Rolfe has effectively filled that hole and then some.

  • I think as longest we finish in the top 3 then its fine. 4 and 5 play wild knock out game, so things can go wrong pretty quick. First would be great and i was almost hoping San Jose would drop of a bit but don't look like we can catch up...

  • In reply to Adam25:

    the nice thing about finishing first is you get to play the winner of that knock out game, possibly with some extra knocks of their own, possibly with red card suspensions, and definately with less rest in between

    how much different would the supporters shield race be had chicago not given up that last second goal in San Jose? 2 extra pts for the Fire, 2 less pts for SJ....

  • In reply to CountChocula:

    Ahhh, 8 minutes of stoppage time......

  • In reply to Adam25:

    San Jose would have to drop all four in order to have a shot at the Supporter's Shield. That one's over.

  • I am not always optimistic about having "games in hand" late in the season because it usually means match congestion. (i seem to remember a couple years ago we had 3 games in hand and did basically nothing with them because it was a lot of games in a short period late in the season)

    But one game in hand is not that bad, so first place is still definately a possibility even if the Fire lose Friday. Obviously a win would be huge, and a draw will be still a very good result.

  • In reply to CountChocula:

    The only congestion to really speak of will be the next 8 days. Friday vs. KC, Wednesday vs. Philly, and the following Saturday vs. NY. After that, there's a week between games. If the Fire can take points from 2 of the next 3, they should be in good shape.

  • On a completely different note, did you see Hoy yesterday? The Sports section was a veritable smorgasbord of Fire news. A full interview with Cuautemoc Blanco, an article on a feud between Nery Castillo (now with Pachuca) and Jorge Vergara (owner of both Chivas teams (and still owner of Saprissa?)), and an article about the Real Madrid-Millonarios match in commemoration of Alfredo DiStefano where the regular Millonarios goalie, now hurt, asked Rafael Robayo to get Casillas's shirt for him after the game.

    As to the predictions, here's to hoping that what you wrote above comes true. That, and that SJE loses every one of its remaining games.

  • In reply to Fuegofan:

    Nice job by Hoy!

  • Jumping ahead a bit but I cannot find the dates for the playoffs. Are the play-in games the weekend after the season ends (Nov 3-4) or do they start the following Wednesday or something? I'm pretty sure conference semis and finals are home and home series with the higher seeded team getting the second game. In that case, it would make sense to start the playoffs on Saturday, then go Wed-Sat for the next two rounds so the stronger team gets the weekend date.

  • In reply to Doug:

    Playoff games are as follows:

    Wild Card play-in: 10/31 or 11/1

    Conf. Semis: 11/3 or 11/4 and 11/7 or 11/8

    Conf. Finals are not yet determined, I don't believe.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    MLS Cup date is set though. December 1

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Thats one long season. I wonder if next year it will be longer? If NY is to have the next expansion team does that mean Houston will go back to western confernece?

  • In reply to Adam25:

    Probably....we'll find out in a few years when team 20 (also known as NY2) is added.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    conference finals are the weekends of 11-10 and 11-17 per:

  • Gr,

    You doing a preview for today? Or was this article it?


  • In reply to Adam25:

    The White Sox have ruined my life. Thank god for the Fire.

  • In reply to Madvora:

    They've added amusement to mine. ;)

  • In reply to Adam25:

    I haven't had a chance to write up the previews over the last few weeks (they are pretty time consuming) but it is something I plan on getting back to for upcoming matches. Unfortunately I won't be able to get one up today.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    when will you learn that we need updates early and often! there are no excuses!!! ;)

  • Does anyone know if Franco traveled to KC?

  • In reply to fireaddict:

    Not positive but it's probably a safe bet that he did.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Confirmed from Brendan, Franco's in the 18 tonight.

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