MLS Picks for 2011 - Fire in the Playoffs?

Looking at the Eastern and Western conferences it’s evident to most that the balance of power is leaning heavily toward the left coast again this season.  The playoff format has changed in 2011 with 10 teams qualifying in lieu of last year’s 8.  In an attempt to avoid having only one Eastern team qualifying for postseason play, MLS has decided that the top three teams from each conference will earn playoff spots while the following four best records regardless of conference will make it to November play via wildcard berths.   

 

Expanding the number of playoff contestants has given hope to the cluster of “bubble” teams in the Eastern Conference.  While New York is clearly the most talented side out of the group, the remaining teams all face serious questions going into the season.  None of the other eight Eastern teams should be considered locks to finish higher than any of the competition.  A matter of a few points could easily separate third place from ninth when all is said and done. 

 

What are the Fire’s chances?  Consider that last season was an incredibly disappointing campaign for an organization and fan base that is accustomed to competing in post season play every year.  After starting the year 5-5-5, the Fire fell off the pace and finished the year at 9-12-9 which was good enough for fourth place in the East.  Now consider that the Fire’s unflattering 2010 final line would have been good enough to qualify for a playoff appearance if the league had expanded to the ten team format it’s currently using. 

 

MLSsoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal, Hot Time In Old Town’s Tweed Thornton and I take at stab at predicting the final table and the ten playoff participants after the jump…..

Western Conference

 

GR                                         SS                                TT

1. Real Salt Lake                    1. Real Salt Lake          1. Real Salt Lake

2. Los Angeles                       2. Los Angeles              2. Los Angeles

3. FC Dallas                           3. Seattle                      3. Colorado

4. Colorado*                          4. FC Dallas*               4. Seattle*

5. Seattle*                              5. Colorado*                5. FC Dallas*

6. San Jose*                           6. San Jose*                6. Chivas USA*

7. Portland                             7. Portland                    7. Portland

8. Vancouver                          8. Vancouver                8. San Jose

9. Chivas USA                       9. Chivas USA              9. Vancouver

 

Eastern Conference

 

GR                                         SS                                TT    

1. New York                          1. New York               1. New York

2. Sporting KC                       2. Sporting KC            2. Sporting KC

3. DC United                          3. DC United               3. DC United 

4. Chicago*                            4. Chicago*                 4. Chicago*

5. Houston                             5. Philadelphia              5. Philadelphia

6. New England                      6. Houston                   6. New England

7. Philadelphia                        7. Columbus                 7. Houston

8. Columbus                           8. New England            8. Toronto

9. Toronto FC                        9. Toronto FC               9. Columbus

 

* Denotes Wild Card team

 

MLS Cup

 

GR                                         SS                                TT

RSL over NY                         NY over Sea                LA over SKC

 

The Fire’s chances at a playoff berth are no better or no worse than any of the teams we’ve placed below them or immediately ahead of them.  Of course, any sustained success or run at playoff qualification will depend on the success of several new acquisitions.  The Uruguayan tandem of Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves will need to surpass the combined production of Collins John, Brian McBride, and Nery Castillo in order to give the Fire a chance.  For those keeping score, that “production” was nine goals and four assists among the three…..combined.  While the talents of Puerari and Chaves are virtually unknown those figures are certainly not insurmountable. 

 

Despite the lack of a classic playmaker in midfield the Fire do boast some depth in the middle of the pitch.  Patrick Nyarko was one of the most dangerous players in the league in the first half of 2010 before injuries slowed him down.  Marco Pappa, at 23 years old is considered one of the better wing players in MLS although the team is looking for him to take the next step as a more complete player.  Bratislav Ristic’s ability to play multiple positions effectively will give De Los Cobos options and flexibility in the starting eleven.  Replacing the boost that Freddie Ljungberg provided will fall to these three players (along with Puerari who assumes the playmaker role from the withdrawn forward spot).  Logan Pause will get help in the defensive middle from Baggio Husidic although neither one possesses much pace.  Marko Maric can also play the holding midfield role and can provide a physical presence that neither Pause or Husidic bring to the table.     

 

The Fire looks to be reasonably strong defensively with Sean Johnson benefitting from an impressive rookie year which earned him his first US Men’s National Team cap in January.  Gonzalo Segares should return to his form of 2009 after having a full training camp to regain his fitness.  Whether Segares plays as a fifth midfielder in a 3-5-2 formation or at his customary left back position his role will remain similar in either alignment, a left sided defender who can get forward.  Cory Gibbs is a solid defender who had a bit of an off year with a bad New England side in 2010.  Gibbs along with Josip Mikulic has been pretty solid during pre season and training.  The true bright spot along the back line could be rookie Jalil Anibaba.  The Fire’s first round pick appears to be the real deal and should earn some Rookie of the Year consideration. 

 

Are Houston, Philadelphia, DC, Houston, Columbus, Toronto, and even Kansas City appreciably better than the Fire?  Absolutely not.  Before you write off the season take a look at the comings and goings of the Eastern Conference teams.  We’ll take a closer look at their issues in the next few days. 

Comments

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  • good wrtie up. this teams ability to win will hinge on the new guys up front. hopefully they won't be like nery and martinez.

  • Did anybody buy the "holiday packs" (4 tickets to the first two games) at the end of last season? I did, and when they sent them to me, I got 2 set of vouchers, almost identical, one set from ticket master and one set from toyota park. Two questions, A: Did they send me double? and B: Do I turn those in the day of game for actual tickets, or do I need to do something sooner?

  • In reply to rmakers:

    I'm sure this guy in the Fire's ticket office can answer that question for you: Drew Eiden 708-496-6785

  • In reply to rmakers:

    4th place in east safe to say maybe. I must say I enjoyed watching RSL play more then LA vs Seattle.

  • In reply to Adam25:

    LA played Seattle last night? i thought it was a donovan and beckham love fest night.

  • In reply to Adam25:

    I'm gonna get wild and predict that the Fire will be involved in a lot of very low-scoring affairs this year.

  • In reply to Ufficio:

    *sigh*
    unfortunately i believe you will be correct.

  • In reply to Ufficio:

    The Fire missed out on another talent...

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=6224036

    Maybe we can trade Calen Carr for Ochocinco?

  • In reply to Ufficio:

    Here is my 2011 MLS picks

    Western Conference

    x-1. Los Angeles
    x-2. Real Salt Lake
    x-3. Seattle
    x-4. FC Dallas
    x-5. Colorado
    x-6. San Jose
    7. Portland
    8. Chivas USA
    9. Vancouver

    Eastern Conference

    x-1. New York
    x-2. Sporting Kansas City
    x-3. Philadelphia
    x-4. Houston
    5. Chicago
    6. DC United
    7. Columbus
    8. New England
    9. Toronto FC

    x-indicates playoff teams

    MLS Cup
    Los Angeles over New York

    MLS Cup Championship MVP: David Beckham Los Angeles

    MLS MVP: Freddie Montero Seattle.
    MLS Rookie of the Year: Perry Kitchen DC United.
    MLS Sleeper Team: Philadelphia Union.
    MLS Player Stock Up: Teal Bunbury Sporting Kansas City.
    MLS Player Stock Down: Chris Wondolowski San Jose.
    MLS Newcomer of the Year: Faryd Mondragon Philadelphia.
    MLS Coach of the Year: Peter Nowak Philadelphia
    MLS Defender of the Year: Tim Ream New York.
    MLS Goalkeeper of the Year: Jimmy Nielsen Sporting Kansas City.
    MLS Golden Boot: Freddie Montero Seattle.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    Caleb Folan of Colorado will have a big impact, possibly newcomer of the year. The Fire will not make the playoffs. hope I'm wrong on the latter but this Fire team strike me as very ordinary, and if the new strikers are a bust, less than average by some distance.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    FC Dallas left back Jair Benitez has been suspended for the opener for a preseason incident against Houston.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    Five Questions in the Daily Herald......

    http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20110316/sports/703169779/

  • In reply to longoria3:

    my prediction: fire wins everything with new jersey and the gals being relegated for just being who they are.

  • In reply to firefan1998:

    if the fire won everything, there'd have to be some sponsors kicking themselves at season end

  • In reply to firefan1998:

    Predictions about the Fire this year really can only be based on unknowns. Last year, I can think of at least 3 if not 4 games that the Fire had a win either locked up or a draw in hand only to completely fall apart at the end. The Rapids game is a classic example of how the back line just lost focus and blew the game. TheFire's offense last year was practically non-existent. The Fire's strength was its midfield which has so far shown to be strengthed with the play of Davis Paul. As much as I loved Brian McBride, his play with the Fire was fairly one dimensional. My hope is that with our new core group of forwards, who are far superior technically, they can create more shots and put more pressure on opposing teams. For the revamped back line, if Mikulic and Gibbs do not lose focus, they can only go up. So....the entire season and any predictions really are meaningless. I have a good feeling about this team because of what I have seen of the pre-season games and the tactics employed. The Fire's starting backline/defensive mids completely frustrated New York's attack. The Seattle loss doesn't count because it was at that point a reserve game. The first 60 minutes of that game showed that the defensive team work was succesful. They didn't have the attacking prowess they showed against New York, but that will come as they were experimenting with the line-up. Seeing the back line/defensive mids shut down opposing attacks early instead of waiting for a shot to miss or Sean to make a save is what has me hopeful. Shutting the opposition down never happened last year. Good things are going to happen this year...I feel it.

  • In reply to SoccerNewbie:

    Krasov,
    That's a pretty good analysis. My prediction of a 4th place finish and playoff spot is based on exactly what you've described. There are still a lot of unknowns with this team but I think they'll be better than last year.

  • In reply to cesba:

    I think it's pretty obvious that preseason predictions are useless, though they make for good reading and entertainment. No one knows what's going to happen, though they can make educated guesses. For all my worry about a terrible Fire season, they could be a very good defensive team, gel offensively as the season goes on, pick up a star forward and playmaker in the summer, and win it all. It's what makes sports exciting.

    Vamos arriba Fire!

    ("vamos arriba" is a classic Uruguayan phrase, a la "pura vida" in costa rica. get used to using it as puerari and chaves tear up the league!:))

  • In reply to longoria3:

    also when are we supposed to hear about the 26th, 27th, and 28th players?

  • In reply to firefan1998:

    Today, I think

  • In reply to Ufficio:

    i'm gonna go against the grain here and say that the west will not get 6 teams into the MLS playoffs - it will be split evenly 5 & 5

    chicago will have to fight off philadelphia and DC utd for that 4th/5th spot in the east.

    RSL, LAG and FCD are the only 3 western teams i consider shoo-ins, and NYRB, & houston are the only 2 eastern teams i think are certain.

    i also think there will be a big surprise team in the playoffs - chicago? one of the expansion teams? chivas? who knows, but not many will expect it

  • In reply to Adam25:

    we need to sign Blaise Nkufo!!!! 5 goals in 11 games!

  • In reply to ChicagoFire8:

    Three came in one game against the Crew. I thought he was just okay in his time with Seattle. I wouldn't spend DP money on him considering this is likely to be his final season playing.

  • In reply to ChicagoFire8:

    I think the word is he is going to whitecaps

  • In reply to ChicagoFire8:

    Excellent FC Dallas video on what the Brimstone Cup means.....

    http://espn.go.com/blog/dallas/soccer/post/_/id/11157/the-brimstone-cup-explained

  • In reply to ChicagoFire8:

    I want The Chicago-Fire to succeed as we all do.
    I think if this season starts off as a lot of The "So Called
    Experts Predict" Then Julian Posada, Frank Klopas and Carlos
    de los Cobos should be holding hands While Standing In The Hall
    Of Blame." Excuses Are Over Replacement Action Is Needed.
    As I mentioned before Very Disappointed that there was No Mention
    Of The Fire U 18 VS Mexico on WWW.Chicago-Fire.com.
    Just goes to show that the Fire Front Office Staff Doesn't
    Know How To Promote Soccer in Chicago and the Suburbs.
    We have a Mexican Coach How About A Proven Mexican Goal scorer???
    I don't mean Nerve Castillo we all know he was a Flop.
    Hans Backe New York Red Bulls can sign a proven Mexican
    Player and Carlos cant. That in itself says something.

  • In reply to TigerJMS:

    it wasn't backe and the pink cows who signed marquez, it was a butt load of money and the pink cows who signed him. i don't think that backe had any responsiblity in luring marquez to new jersey.

  • In reply to firefan1998:

    The "butt load" of money would be the key there.

  • In reply to TigerJMS:

    "the combined production of Collins John, Brian McBride, and Nery Castillo" - I laughed when I saw that! Especially with Castillo in the list!

  • In reply to TigerJMS:

    ouch Bretos tweet from today
    mbretosESPN Max Bretos:
    had a good chat with espn MLS crew about who will be worse team in league 2011, consensus - Vancouver, runner up Chicago

  • In reply to lijien:

    bretos, twellman, and lalas are all tied for being the biggest douches at espn.

  • In reply to lijien:

    ouch indeed.....they would also be wrong

  • In reply to lijien:

    More comments from Klopas.......

    http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/klopas-bullish-new-fire-tactics-still-need-work

  • In reply to lijien:

    Town Hall meeting with Andrew Hauptman March 25......

    http://section8chicago.com/index.php?option=com_kunena&Itemid=164&func=view&catid=3&id=35576#35852

  • In reply to lijien:

    Meet the Team Event on Saturday April 2 at Chitown Futbol.....

    http://section8chicago.com/index.php?option=com_kunena&Itemid=164&func=view&catid=3&id=20314&limit=20&limitstart=360#35845

  • In reply to lijien:

    with so few "stats" to keep track of in soccer, you'd think they could post a correct boxscore on the offical mlssoccer.com site, but they always seem to screw up something

    http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter-recap/la-hot-start-beat-seattle-first-kick

    Shots on Goal
    SOG 0 1 SOG

    yet in the accompanying article, it correctly states that:
    Despite a 6-2 disadvantage in shots on goal, Juninho made the Galaxy

  • In reply to CountChocula:

    That irritates me to no end. Inexcusable.

  • In reply to Adam25:

    LA vs seattle - the midfield play was poor on both sides IMO. blame it on the weather, blame it on that rug they play on, or whatever, but a lot of poor passing that i saw

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