The Chicago Fire’s recent slide has been a surprise after how the team played through the first half of the season, and the consequence is the team’s playoff spot is less of a certainty than it seemed before.
Saturday's 2-1 loss to Minnesota dropped the Fire (12-9-5, 41 points) to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings after Columbus moved a point ahead of them. The chasing pack continues to close in. The two teams tied for sixth, Montreal and Atlanta, are five points back and both have two games in hand on the Fire.
So does this mean it’s panic time for the Fire?
“No one said this was going to be easy and this is exactly what we were talking about when some point this season we were all celebrating the great season so far and the great performance of the team,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It wasn’t done (then) and it’s not done even now. We are not happy to see the latest results obviously and everyone wants to fix this things as soon as possible, but we have to keep together.”
The Fire were already realistically out of the Supporters’ Shield race when they lost at home to Toronto last week, which is now 12 points ahead of the Fire with eight games left. Suddenly, it’s not looking very likely the Fire catch New York City FC, which is six points ahead of the Fire for second place.
So if the Fire aren’t in the Supporters’ Shield race and a first-round playoff bye is looking dicey, trying to secure a home playoff game in that first round is the next goal. The Fire currently hold one of those spots, but the New York Red Bulls are two points behind and have a game in hand.
A trip to Montreal is next week, a place where the Fire lost 3-0 less than two weeks ago. That match will have playoff implications not just for seeding, but for simply getting into the postseason.
“We’ve always had a sense of urgency, but really now with the way things have gone the past couple of games I think that needs to be ramped up to another level,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “The playoffs are certainly not a certainty right now so we need to make sure that we stay positive and try to get back on the right track.”