Monday, October 17, 2011
Fire's playoff hopes hanging by thread
By Charlie Corr
The turn of events during the Chicago Fire's comeback win over D.C. United on Saturday brought out a supreme sense of adulation on one end, and dismay and shock on the other side.
Major League Soccer must be loving the way things have turned out heading into the final week of the regular season. Combine the Fire's late heroics and the New York Red Bulls' loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, and the league now has a scenario where four teams still have a mathematical hope for the final wild card spot.
"It's never over until it's over," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said after Saturday's 2-1 win over D.C. "We pushed it and brought a couple subs in that had an impact on the game. I think in the end, some special players made special plays, and when we had the chances we finished them."
Sebastian Grazzini's stoppage-time equalizer and Diego Chaves' stoppage-time game-winner created a dramatic moment for the Fire, who looked like their season was all but over.
The spell of fortune needs to linger this week for Chicago, but at least there still is that small realm of playoff possibility.
Here are the important scenarios that have to happen in order for the Fire to finalize this unfathomable turnaround to sneak into the final postseason spot:
Minimal points for Portland, D.C.: Heading into the week, the Timbers sit with 40 points with two matches remaining, and D.C. United has 38 points with two games left. Chicago lost twice to Portland during the regular season, so the Fire do not want to see Portland reach the 43-point mark or they will be eliminated from the postseason. On Wednesday, Portland and D.C. square off against one another. An appropriate result from the Fire's standpoint would be a draw. Then, Portland would need to either play to a draw or lose to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, while Saturday's D.C.-Sporting Kansas City result would have no bearing. Another scenario would be D.C. posting a win over the Timbers, but then playing to a draw or losing to Sporting Kansas City. The Timbers still would need to post a draw or loss to Real Salt Lake over the weekend in this instance.
Red Bulls loss to Philadelphia: The Fire need New York to post one more critical defeat when it hosts the Union on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Red Bulls have 43 points and the Fire have 40. Not only do the Red Bulls need to fall to the Union, but they will need to lose by a considerable margin. Because both sides played to draws during the regular season, the next determining tiebreaker is goal differential. The Fire trail the Red Bulls in goal differential by five (New York is at plus-five and Chicago is even). New York will have its home base against Philly, and the Red Bulls posted a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy the last time they had a match at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 4. Team scoring leader Thierry Henry will be serving his red card suspension in the home finale, so that will be a bit of an obstacle to overcome.
Fire win against Columbus: Chicago already will know heading into this game as to whether the team still has a chance or not. The Fire will need to topple the Crew by a considerable margin to make up the remaining goal differential to the Red Bulls. The Fire have not scored more than three goals in a game this season, and they most likely would need to have a season-best offensive performance against the Crew. Columbus' defense typically has been one of the more consistent ones in the Eastern Conference, though the Crew did have a two-game stretch where the team allowed a combined 10 goals to Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC in late August and early September.