Are the Fire a playoff team?
Their 12-5-5 record over the last five months would lead you to believe that they are. The mathematical odds seem to indicate that they are. The fact that they're above the red line with one game remaining would suggest so.
The possibility does exist however, that Chicago could be left out of the postseason tournament come the end of the day Sunday. After a stretch of three games against MLS' bottom dwellers, they may have to earn their way into the playoffs by picking up a result against the club currently leading the Supporter's Shield race. This Sunday's game in New York against the Red Bulls could very well be a "playoff game" if results preceding the match don't go the Fire's way. Needing to win on the road against the current top squad in the league is as good a test as any.
Those hoping that the game may not be important to New York may not get their wish. The Red Bulls hold the lead for the Supporter's Shield by one point over Sporting Kansas City, two points over Portland, and are three ahead of Real Salt Lake. The Shield would be the first significant hardware for the franchise formerly known as the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars and they've been in good form of late. They're 3-0-2 in their last five matches, but it should be noted that the two wins before the 3-0 victory in Houston were against the same FC Dallas and Toronto FC clubs that the Fire claimed victories over. They have also impressively hammered Houston twice in the last month. The aforementioned 3-nil win was preceded by another 4-1 spanking at BBVA Compass Stadium on September 8.
With Sporting travelling to Philadelphia three days after competing in a CCL match at home it's possible that New York could have the Eastern Conference sewed up by game time. A Union win at home against KC on Saturday wouldn't matter to the Fire since they hold the tie breaker advantage against them. The game is significant for the Red Bulls though. RSL finishes their season tonight against Chivas USA at home and a win would tie them on points with New York, furthermore they're both still very close in the next two tie-breakers so the match tonight is also important for NYRB. The Timbers should beat Chivas USA on Saturday night to push them past New York for the top spot as well.
This match will likely mean a lot for New York. From the Fire's perspective, there are scenarios that will still place them into the playoffs even if they lose on Sunday. A Fire loss or draw in New York combined with a Houston win over hapless DC United and a New England win over Columbus will leave them on the outside looking in. If all three of those things happen the Fire are out. They'll know exactly what result they'll need by halftime with Houston-DC kicking off at 12:30 on Sunday and New England-Columbus starting one hour before Chicago-New York does. That makes for a long day of nail biting.
A Montreal loss in Toronto can also lead to Fire qualification despite a loss in New York but they'll need to score 5 more goals than the Impact do this weekend. Not likely. Incredibly, the Fire can finish as high as third and as low as sixth.
This match is shaping up to be playoff game #1. It just happens to be against the top team in the East, on the road, with the pressure of knowing every result before the final whistle. Say what you will about the first ten games of the season but if the Fire qualify they certainly will have earned it.
Notes and misc
- The Fire Reserves beat Toronto FC 4-2 on Sunday morning to finish the year at 5-7-1.
- Remember that forthcoming front office change we talked about weeks ago? There are still some moves afoot but it seems they've decided to wait on an announcement until after the season is over.
- With the season winding down and offseason planning already underway for some clubs there is sure to be movement on the coaching carousel. Of note to the Fire, watch Vancouver. Martin Rennie's fate should be decided early next week and it's possible that former San Jose coach Frank Yallop lands with the Whitecaps in some capacity. The Fire may be interested in Yallop but necessarily as a coach.
- At the moment there doesn't appear to be anything to Alexi Lalas' speculation at halftime of the LA/San Jose game on Sunday night that Jesse Marsch could end up back in Chicago. Marsch is currently an assistant coach at Princeton.
- If the Fire land in the 4th spot, the play-in game will be played at Toyota Park on Halloween night next Thursday.