#DigDown – 2017 Playoffs

Look Back: Five pivotal games in Fire's drive to 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs

Nearly every MLS regular-season campaign brings with it a spell of rough results, an absence of form or some other adversity that tests the mettle of players and staff -- even for those clubs who eventually find their way into the postseason.

This year was no exception for the playoff-bound Fire, who after vaulting up the table prior to the CONCACAF Gold Cup break endured a run of six losses in seven games through July and August that jeopardized their postseason aspirations. But a 3-1-2 mark in September that included two 'gut-check' road victories helped Veljko Paunovic's side get back on track and position themselves for a run at silverware. 

Playoff Tickets & More Coverage: Chicago-Fire.com/DigDown

With that in mind, here’s a look back at five games that the Fire can remember as games that helped cement their place as a contender in the highly competitive Eastern Conference:

Date: April 1
Result: Fire 2, Montreal Impact 2
Highlights:Click Here

With the Fire standing 1-1-1 in the young season and only four days after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, the German superstar featured in Veljko Paunovic’s starting XI and enjoyed a dream start to his MLS tenure, heading home the game’s first goal in the 17th minute. But after Montreal pulled level in the 61st, the Fire soon found themselves shorthanded thanks to a red card along with an injury to substitute Michael de Leeuw -- prompting Schweinsteiger to go the distance on his debut. The visitors delivered what looked like the dagger with a 90th-minute goal, but stoppage time saw Dax McCarty set up Luis Solignac for an equalizer on the final kick of the game. While the Fire weren’t happy to settle for a home point on an otherwise momentous afternoon, the positive finish served as a jumping-off point for back-to-back home victories to follow.

Date: May 13
Result: Fire 4, Seattle Sounders 1
Highlights:Click Here

Following a three-game, coast-to-coast road trip that yielded only a point for the Fire, the Men In Red returned home for another tough task in hosting the reigning MLS Cup champions from Seattle. An even first half ended 1-1, but a motivated Chicago side emerged from the locker room knowing that anything less than three points on the night would be a disappointment. In the 60th minute, David Accam scored at the conclusion of a stellar passing sequence to ignite the sellout crowd, and the Fire rode the wave for two more electric goals in the 73rd and 76th minute. The confidence boost resulting from the win was palpable in the postgame locker room and carried throughout an 11-game unbeaten run.

Date: June 28
Result: Fire 0 (1), FC Cincinnati 0 (3) (U.S. Open Cup Round of 16)
Highlights:Click Here

Though they ultimately came up short in their quest to advance their U.S. Open Cup title hopes, the Fire no doubt grew as a squad after enduring a tense, 120-minute battle in front of more than 32,000 fans at FC Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. Goalkeepers at both ends delivered incredible saves to keep the game scoreless through regulation and extra time, setting up the penalty kick shootout where FC Cincinnati's Mitch Hildebrandt starred to send his USL side into the quarterfinals. Still, the Fire bounced back from their first true adversity of the season just three days later, returning to league play by making quick work of Vancouver and extending their home winning streak.

Date: September 2
Result: Fire 1, Montreal Impact 0
Highlights:Click Here

Coming off arguably its most deflating loss of the year at home to Minnesota, the Fire went back to Montreal -- a site it had dropped a 3-0 outcome just over two weeks prior -- and grinded out a critical 1-0 win. Matt Polster starred in his first start back from injury, setting up a Bastian Schweinsteiger goal in an all-around gritty performance by the midfield general, and the Fire used a man advantage and a last-minute save by Matt Lampson to leave Stade Saputo with all three points.

Date: September 27
Result: Fire 4, San Jose Earthquakes 1
Highlights:Click Here

Once again following a dispiriting defeat, this time midweek on the road at Philadelphia, the Fire moved on and quickly regrouped on a cross-country trip to San Jose, where the club had not won since 2010. Facing a Quakes side also desperate to enhance its playoff odds, the Fire dug down and delivered one of their most complete performances to date, with 18-year-old Djordje Mihailovic providing a hand in the first two goals and Nemanja Nikolic netting a brace en route to a playoff-clinching 4-1 win.

Now, with the Eastern Conference’s middle four teams jockeying for all-important playoff seeding, the Men In Red have two matches remaining -- starting with Sunday's home finale against Philadelphia (4pm CT) to leave their stamp on a hard-fought regular season and enter the postseason on full power.