Win and you're in.
If only it was that easy. If earlier results don't go their way the Fire will need to earn a result against the Eastern Conference's top team. With every Eastern Conference match completed before the end of the Fire-New York game, we'll know by half time whether the Fire have clinched a post season spot or whether there is a chance that the 2013 campaign ends on Sunday.
The Columbus Crew could end up doing Chicago a huge favor by either beating or drawing the New England Revolution. A NE loss/draw will put the Fire into the playoffs. Feeling the importance of the match and looking for every advantage possible, Revolution ownership chartered a flight to Ohio for the team. When the margin of victory is so slim in a league based on parity, every little bit counts.
Update: The Fire are chartering a flight home from New York after this match. A good move considering the potential short turn around for a possible play in game. Of course they need to get in first.
Projected line ups
Johnson; Segares, Berry, Soumare, Anibaba; Duka, Alex, Rios, Nyarko; Magee, Anangono
Robles; Barklage, Olave, Sekagya, Holgersson; Steele, Luyindula, McCarty, Alexander; Cahill, Henry
The question for the Fire will be, who takes over for Jeff Larentowicz in central midfield? Alex seems to be the logical choice since he's played well in spots there, particularly while teaming with Larentowicz. Frank Klopas' other leading option would be Logan Pause. Given New York's potential for offensive firepower with Cahill, Henry, and possibly Espindola in the line-up, Klopas may choose to play it tight on the road with Pause but the downside is the loss of a threat from the middle of the pitch. That was the case against Montreal last month when Pause and Rios started together. The Fire were flat offensively in the first half of that game (literally and figuratively) and changes had to be made at the half to jump start the team.
The Red Bulls can claim the club's first ever significant hardware if they win this game. They'll likely need the full three points in order to wrap up the Supporter's Shield. Tim Cahill has scored big goals for New York all season and he's given the freedom to roam on the pitch. Mike Petke has utilized him in both his more customary central midfield position and as a second striker as he did last week against Houston. Fabian Espindola or Bradley Wright-Phillips can also work their way into the eleven if Cahill is pushed back into midfield.
One thing to look out for will be the battle on the left side of New York's defense. Both first and second choice starting left backs Roy Miller and David Carney may not be available for the second straight week. Petke has moved Brandon Barklage over from the right side and he will have his hands full trying to contain Patrick Nyarko.
With DC v Houston kicking off at 12:30 cdt and Columbus v New England starting one hour before the Fire game starts we should know by half time what needs to be done. Philadelphia v Sporting and Toronto v Montreal on Saturday will also be of interest for Chicago. While MLS and the national media are busy patting the Red Bulls on the back for a possible Supporter's Shield title, let's not forget the Fire have forged the best record in MLS since June 1.
Fire 2 New York 2
The rest of the league
Philadelphia 0 Sporting KC 1
Toronto 1 Montreal 1
San Jose 2 FC Dallas 1
Chivas USA 1 Portland 3
DC United 1 Houston 2
Columbus 3 New England 2
Vancouver 1 Colorado 1
Seattle 1 Los Angeles 1
Season record 148/314
If those picks hold true the Fire would end up travelling to Montreal for the "play-in" game. If all other results come through and Houston draws in DC, the Fire would end up hosting....Houston.
It would also mean that Sporting KC wins the Supporter's Shield with a one point advantage over New York and Portland.
This weekend will be fun to watch regardless of what happens.