Chicago Fire fans must be excited about the Fire’s chances at earning a spot in the MLS playoffs. Having gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, the Fire have the look of a championship contender. Overall, the Fire have a record of 15-8-5 with 50 points.
They are peaking at just the opportune time.
After their 3-1 win against the Montreal Impact, Fire forward Patrick Nyarko spoke to reporters about the team’s goals at the beginning of the season. When asked about how many points he and his fellow Fire teammates were shooting for, Nyarko responded with “60 points.”
The Fire currently have 53 points.
With five games remaining, after defeating the Columbus Crew 2-1 this past Saturday, 60 points is well within reach. So is winning the MLS Cup.
Here are five things the Fire can do in order to finish the season as MLS Cup champions. This does not include defeating the Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City club next Friday.
Dominic Oduro has been struggling as of late and has not started with the front 11 in the last seven games. Whenever Oduro is in the game, he is a threat to score, yet he has not scored a goal in 13 contests. His last goal dates back to June 23rd.
Oduro may not be playing with the starters right now, but the Fire need him and his ability to score. If the Fire want to contend for the MLS Cup, they must find a way to get Oduro back on track.
The Fire have made several moves in order to make the team better. Bringing in forwards Sherjill MacDonald, Guillermo Franco and midfielder Alvaro Fernandez are moves that will steady the ship in different ways.
MacDonald gives the Fire a dual threat as a striker and passer. He is always around the ball. With six shots on goal, two goals and two assists in eight games, MacDonald has displayed aggressiveness to go along with his speed.
Fernandez brings deft passing and calmness to the Fire. He is also sneaky around the net, with two goals of his own since joining the team via trade with the Seattle Sounders.
Franco finalizes the trifecta. The Fire will count on him as a veteran that knows every trick of the trade.
Ball possession is the key in any sport, not to mention soccer. The Fire must keep the ball possession in their favor in order to take advantage of scoring opportunities.
During the 3-1 win against the Impact, the Fire allowed the Impact to possess the ball 58 percent of the time. They went on to win, but the victory was harder than it needed to be. The Fire are a terrific defensive team, but they will give up more scoring chances to their opponents if this trend continues.
The Fire are more dangerous when they are the attacking team, not the team under attack.
Sean Johnson has been sensational. He ranks fourth in the MLS with 100 saves this season. Johnson’s 94 saves shatters his career high of 76 saves from last year, and he is only getting better.
Johnson has done a great job of not allowing many goals this season (31) and going into the game versus the Columbus Crew, he had a good GAA (goals-against average) of 1.21. Many of his saves have been acrobatic ones that have garnered praise from Fire fans. Johnson can dominate a game, but he needs help.
To help him out, the Fire have to keep upright on defense and not allow teams to crowd the net. They also cannot lose the ball-possession battle, and they must avoid early deficits.
The Fire’s record at Toyota Park stands at 11-2-2 , which is outstanding. Protecting home field is another thing the Fire must do if they have designs on winning the MLS Cup.
The MLS playoff format has changed for this season and it favors teams that can score and protect their home field. The fourth- and fifth-seeded teams face each other in a single-elimination match with the winners facing the top seed in each conference. Then the four remaining teams play in a two-game series. The team that scores the most goals moves on to the next round.
The Fire have scored 25 goals in front of the Toyota Park faithful and they feed off the crowd’s energy, especially the beloved “Section 8” group that is at every game rallying for the team.
Ernest Shepard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, all quotes and observations were acquired firsthand.