Chicago Fire: A Realistic Look at their MLS Cup Playoff Chances

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After a couple recent Chicago Fire results, we’ve seen this popular talking point in heavy circulation: “they’re only three points out of a playoff spot.” While technically true, it’s a very misleading statement that leaves out a lot of critical information.

Entering tonight’s 2-0 win over Eastern Conference table topping Philadelphia Union, the Fire were in 10th place, three points behind 7th place Montreal Impact (holders of the last postseason qualification slot in the East), but the Fire had played one more match than Montreal (and hence had more opportunities to pick up points than the Impact have had).

chicago fire

The team just above Chicago in the standings entering the game, 9th place Toronto FC, had two games in hand on the Fire while the 8th place team, Orlando City SC, had one. And of course the only reason we’re even having this conversation to begin with is due to the league’s expanding the MLS Cup playoffs this year.

So the Chicago Fire have their work cut out for them, and that postseason berth is actually further away than the common sound bite might make it sound. The good news is that the team is finding its stride (finally!) at just the right time. As we head down the home stretch here, the Fire have some momentum, having won three of their last four.

The bad news is that four of their final six matches are on the road, a place where the Fire have won just once the entire term and that victory came only two weeks ago.

veljko paunovic

Maybe tonight’s win will help bring the team build the right mind set for succeeding down the stretch.      

“That’s what actually brings the team the confidence- executing the plan and executing it properly, knowing what we’re doing and playing as a team,” said Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic after the match.

“We need everyone, including our amazing fans, who celebrated the win with us and we need to keep growing as a family and as an entity.”

Both fire goals came from striker Nemanja Nikolic, whose brace brought him up to second place on the Fire’s all-time leading scorer list. With 50 goals, he moved ahead of Chris Rolfe and trails only Ante Razov (76) now.

“He has to get the #1 (position), I believe he will achieve it,” said Paunovic.

nemanja nikolic

 “He brings to the team an amazing spirit, selfless, gives his best to the team,; has a hunger for scoring goals.”

With just two home games left at home (FC Dallas on Sept 14th and the last game in Seatgeek Stadium, Sept 29th against Toronto), it’s imperative the Fire take care of business in their own house.

They must win both, and the home finale could be an elimination game, given how it’s against a team they’re chasing.

The regular season finale comes the next week at Orlando, and again, with it being against another playoff contender, it might be a play-in game. The run in also includes road matches against the conference’s two worst teams, FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew.

However, one cannot really view that optimistically given what the Chicago Fire did against those two very same teams at home in mid-July. They lost at home to Cincinnati on July 13th and snatched a draw from the jaws of victory in the final minutes on July 17th. 

nemanja nikolic

Take those two results, package them with tonight’s impressive victory (they kept a clean sheet despite being down a man for an entire half, getting outshot 18-3 and losing possession 60%-40%) over a first place team, plus July 3rd’s record-breaking romp (5-1) over the reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United.

Put those four games all together and that is pretty much the story of the Chicago Fire season- playing up or down to the top and bottom of the table.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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