Now that we’re amidst a two-week break between games, we can reflect upon the Fire's crucial win over the New York Red Bulls that put an end to a 692-day stretch without a road win.
So, now what?
First off, it is a huge monkey off of the back of the players and coaching staff. Despite what some might publicly say, it was weighing on the shoulders of the entire Club. The embrace displayed by the technical staff following the final whistle in New Jersey on Saturday night said it all.
So now that the Fire have ticked off that box and gotten rid of the boogeyman that haunted them to every destination since Decision Day on 2019, it is time to bear down and make a push for the playoffs.
While head coach Raphael Wicky has already made it clear that he is not setting short, mid or long term goals with his group, I think it’s important to understand what lies ahead for the Fire and what they need to do in order to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs.
Chicago have 12 games remaining, with eight of those being away from home. The home games are:
- vs. New England Revolution 9/22
- vs. Nashville SC 9/26
- vs. New York City FC 9/29
- vs. Real Salt Lake 10/23
The away fixtures:
- @ Sporting Kansas City 9/11
- @ D.C. United 9/15
- @ CF Montréal 9/19
- @ Toronto FC 10/3
- @ New England Revolution 10/16
- @ FC Cincinnati 10/20
- @ New York City FC 10/27
- @ Columbus Crew 11/7
The fixtures that stand out to me the most are games at D.C., Montréal, and Columbus. These are three teams that sit above the Fire in the table.
With that said, they are ALL big.
This is obviously a daunting final stretch, but what does it entail exactly? Well, looking back at the 2019 season - the last time MLS played a 34-game slate in the new playoff format - it took 45 points to get into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and 48 points in the West. To play it safe, let’s call it 46 points. That is the magic number the Fire should theoretically be aiming for.
There are a possible 36 points on the table. With the Fire sitting on 23 points in 10th place, it will most likely take seven or eight wins. There is obviously very little wiggle room, and a lot of this work will need to come away from Soldier Field.
This feat seems unlikely, but this is football. Anything can happen. New signing Federico Navarro is finally stateside, forward Robert Berić is back on the scoresheet, and this group has finally proved they can win on the road. There is a massive amount of work to be done, but we have very much entered the business part of the season. This two-week international break is an opportunity to reset, recharge, and gear up for an epic playoff push.
The Fire had a - let’s be honest - rough start to the season. Because of that, they’ve left themselves playing catch up. The teams in front of them have everything to lose, while the Fire are simply trying to keep it close. If they can hang around and keep it within three-to-six points until mid-to-late October, I think you’ll start to see some teams above them feel the pressure.
Next up is SKC on Saturday, Sept. 11. Enjoy the World Cup Qualifiers in the meantime.