It may not be time to start ringing alarm bells, but the Eastern Conference race is not looking as pleasant for the Chicago Fire as it did a few weeks ago.
The Fire lost 3-1 in Columbus on Saturday. It was the Fire's third straight loss on the road.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Toronto FC erupted in the second half for a 4-1 win against Portland. TFC (13-3-8, 47 points) is now six points clear of the second-place Fire (12-6-5, 41 points). On top of that, New York City FC (12-7-4, 40 points) is just one point behind the Fire, and could move into second place with a win at LA later tonight, and the New York Red Bulls (12-9-2, 38 points) beat Orlando to move within three points of the Fire.
While Toronto has appeared to be the class of the league throughout the season and is likely to hold onto the top spot, securing the second spot at the minimum will be important for the Fire. The top two teams in each conference avoid having to play in a first-round playoff game and move straight into the conference semifinals.
Six of the Fire's final 11 regular season games will be at Toyota Park where the team has been unbeatable. The Fire are 10-0-1 at Toyota Park and the first team in the league to reach 10 wins at home.
Next up though is another road game. The Fire head to Montreal, which just beat Philadelphia for a second straight win, on Wednesday. The Impact (8-8-6, 30 points) still have some chasing to do, but are getting back in the playoff race.
After that, the Fire's home record will be put to the test with Toronto coming to town next weekend. A win at Montreal would mean a win against TFC would put the Fire back into a tie for the Supporters' Shield race. On the flipside, if the Fire don't win in Montreal, a Toronto win at Toyota Park could be a near-decisive blow for the Reds in that same race.
The Fire's playoff status isn't in doubt, but its position in the playoffs is. Despite Michael de Leeuw's early goal, his third in six games, the Fire allowed an equalizer five minutes later and couldn't regain the lead in the second half.
The Fire had a majority of the possession throughout the match and finished at 58 percent, but again struggled to create chances in the final third. The Fire had just three shots on target.
Columbus (11-12-2, 35 points) took the lead with a pretty Justin Meram outside-of-the-foot finish in the 73rd minute and the Fire collapsed after. The Crew had more chances for a third goal than the Fire did a second and eventually the third came when Ola Kamara was taken down in the box by goalkeeper Matt Lampson, making his first start in Columbus as an opposing player. Kamara converted the penalty in the 88th minute to essentially end the game.
After a number of injury scares earlier in the week, the only regular to not start was Juninho. Johan Kappelhof and Dax McCarty played the full 90 minutes after being limited in practice this week.