BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Despite looking dead in the water on multiple occasions, the Chicago Fire are still alive.
The Fire are still looking up at the playoff spots, but a 4-2-1 record in the past seven matches has prevented the team from falling completely out of the race.
Saturday’s 4-0 win against FC Dallas was both an impressive performance and important result. After the Fire picked up one point in two road games at New England and Columbus, the room for error was nil. After 90 minutes, hope remains.
“(Saturday) was one of the days that we had a brilliant start and we converted our opportunities, which in the past sometimes wasn’t that consistent, but now it’s working,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “It’s still three games to go and three opportunities for us, starting with the next one. So we are focusing on the positives. We keep the confidence high and we believe that we have our chances.”
The Fire likely need to win out to make the playoffs, but the way they looked on Saturday may give belief that’s possible. However, this isn’t the first time the Fire have blown away a team at SeatGeek Stadium this season.
The Fire dominated the Colorado Rapids 4-1 on April 20. They then built a three-game home winning streak with a 5-0 win against the New England Revolution and a comfortable 2-0 win against Minnesota United. On July 3, the Fire destroyed Atlanta United with an onslaught of early goals en route to a 5-1 win.
The problem for the Fire has been getting consistent performances, especially on the road. The same Fire team that atomized Atlanta lost to last-place FC Cincinnati at home 10 days later. They then drew at home to Columbus Crew SC, second from the bottom in the Eastern Conference, four days after that.
The Fire still have the fewest road wins (one) and the second-fewest road points (seven) in the league. Two of the final three matches are on the road, including at Cincinnati next weekend.
“In the next game, we want to have the same performance, and most importantly have the same outcome: winning the game and get three points,” Paunović said. “It’s a must-win game. As I said last week, our playoffs already started, so every game, one game at a time and every game is a playoff game for us, which means, you win, you continue with your options and if you don’t win, unfortunately that’s it. But a game like (Saturday’s win against Dallas) speaks highly about the spirit that the team is having right now.”
The Fire (9-12-10, 37 points) picked up a win to stay alive and got some help elsewhere on Saturday. New England, currently holding the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, blew a 3-1 halftime lead at Orlando to settle for a tie. Montreal lost at home to last-place Cincinnati.
The results went against the Fire Sunday. Toronto and D.C. United both won and are practically out of reach with 45 points, one more than the Fire’s maximum possible point total of 46. The New York Red Bulls lost at Seattle, but are four points ahead of the Fire with a game in hand.
FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Fire a 23 percent chance of making the playoffs. Here’s the outlook for the five teams fighting for the last two spots:
- Red Bulls (41 points): Wednesday at Portland, Sept. 22 vs. Philadelphia, Sept. 29 vs. DC, Oct. 6 at Montreal
- Revolution (40 points): Sept. 21 vs. RSL, Sept. 25 at Portland, Sept. 29 vs. NYCFC, Oct. 6 at Atlanta
- Impact (37 points): Sept. 21 at LA Galaxy, Sept. 29 vs. Atlanta, Oct. 6 vs. Red Bulls
- Fire (37 points): Sept. 21 at Cincinnati, Sept. 29 vs. Toronto, Oct. 6 at Orlando
- Orlando (36 points): Sept. 21 at Houston, Sept. 29 at Cincinnati, Oct. 6 vs. Fire
New England has arguably the toughest remaining schedule of the group. All four remaining opponents are in playoff spots and Atlanta and NYCFC are two of the top three teams in the conference.
Orlando has maybe the easiest schedule with all three teams currently below the playoff line, but only one home game left.
The Fire won’t enter any of their remaining games as a significant underdog. However, the Fire haven’t won three straight, let alone four straight, games in over two years. While the other teams in the race are expected to drop some points, it’s far from certain the Fire will suddenly play better than they have all season to close things out.
“We know every game is a must-win for us and that’s the mentality that we are taking,” defender Jonathan Bornstein said. “Every game is a playoff game. We’re already in a must-win and if we lose were out.”
It may still be long odds, but the Fire are still in it for now.