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Numbers don’t favor Chicago Fire’s playoff chances, but Dax McCarty is ‘convinced we are capable’

‘I know that this team is capable of winning games,’ McCarty said.

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire’s playoff chances took another hit with a home draw against D.C. United on Saturday. It was the Fire’s sixth draw in 13 matches at SeatGeek Stadium.

As with almost every game the Fire have played this season, there were glimpses of a good team somewhere in those 90 minutes. They weren’t frequent enough to get the win though. As a result, the Fire’s gap to the playoff spots grew larger.

Here are a few notes on what is needed from the Fire’s stretch run in order to have any hope of making the playoffs, Jonathan Bornstein’s Chicago debut and an injury update.

The Fire’s path to the playoffs (if there is one)

The Fire are nine points behind the Montreal Impact and New England Revolution for the last two playoffs spots in the Eastern Conference. Toronto FC is a point behind those two teams. The Revolution and TFC both have a game in hand on the Fire. Orlando City and the Columbus Crew (with a tiebreaker advantage in wins) also are ahead of the Fire in the Eastern Conference.

It’s not a pretty picture for Chicago.

After the draw, both coach Veljko Paunović and midfielder Dax McCarty talked about how there are 30 points still available for the Fire.

“I know that this team is capable of winning games,” McCarty said. “I’m convinced we are capable. We haven’t proven that, so that’s fine if people are skeptical and I understand why they would be. We can’t lose the faith and the belief that we can get something out of this season. Once you lose that, you may as well give up and you may as well stop coming into training.

“I promise our fans, we’re not gonna mail it in.”

McCarty remains confident in the talent on the roster, but time is running out. How much room for error is there?

Last season, the seventh-place team in the Eastern Conference had 46 points. In order to hit that number, which would just put them in a borderline position to get in, the Fire need 22 points from their last 10 matches. 

The Fire have four home matches left and six on the road. In order to hit 22 points, the Fire need either six wins and four draws or seven wins and a draw. In other words, a team that hasn’t won on the road all season is going to need multiple road wins down the stretch, and potentially three or four.

It’s a tall order, but McCarty is keeping the faith. He cited New England’s turnaround (7-0-4 in the past 11 after a 2-8-2 start) to show it’s possible.

“I’d say we have to win seven or eight games in our last 10 if we want to give ourselves a realistic chance,” McCarty said. “People can doubt us, people can doubt me and the words that I’m saying, but I promise you I believe that we are capable of doing it and we’re going to go for it. We’re going to try.”

Bornstein’s debut

Jonathan Bornstein made his debut just days after signing with the team. He played all 90 minutes at left back. For the most part he was a non-factor in the match, which can be considered a positive for a defender.

He completed 77.8 percent of his passes, which tied for third highest among Fire starters, although he didn’t get forward often. Bornstein made a pair of small mistakes that led to D.C. attacks late, but he was part of a back line that contributed to a shutout.

“I think he was solid,” Paunović said. “We wanted to give him a break, but the game was dictating something different so we had to stick with him on the field.

“Most importantly what I saw in Jonathan was the urgency. Very vigorous in defense and capable of bringing the ball in the final third. That is something that is very important for our team, especially. We have a team that depends on the crosses also and bringing in the balls from the flanks. He has all that and we’re going to work together to bring him to the next level.”

Injury updates

The Fire were without Aleksandar Katai and Jorge Corrales, both out with leg injuries. Additionally, Paunović said Fabian Herbers will be out “several weeks” with a shoulder injury. Herbers had started seven straight MLS matches before Saturday.

Paunović also said Djordje Mihailović is still working back into full fitness after having “some issues” last week at the Philadelphia Union. Paunović said Mihailović and Katai both should be ready for some minutes next week at the Houston Dynamo.

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