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Fire needs result ... or faces nervous weekend
by Ridge Mahoney, October 22nd, 2009 7:01AM
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[MLS] You might think you have the MLS playoff mosaic sorted out, yet there's one piece that doesn't quite fit the standard procedure. Chicago holds second place in the Eastern Conference, and needs just a point Thursday in its final game to clinch that spot (TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 8 pm ET) and the home-field advantage in the conference semifinals that comes with it. If Chicago wins or ties, it finishes second in the East, end of story.

But if the Fire loses, a bevy of Eastern Conference teams will have a chance on the final weekend to tie it on points. Toronto FC, New England and D.C. United all have 39 points and if enough of them win their final games, they could not only match Chicago's 42 points but also knock it out of the playoffs entirely.

Here are Chicago's head-to-head records this season against those Eastern teams with which it could finish tied: Toronto (1-0-1), New England (0-0-2), and D.C. (0-2-1). (Dallas can also finish with 42 points but for purposes of the Eastern Conference No. 2 slot its results would not be considered).

Suppose Chicago loses and the other three Eastern teams win to create a logjam at 42 points. The four teams would then be evaluated via their head-to-head results against each other to decide the second-place team in the conference. If three teams are tied, results among those teams are calculated.

Since none of the tied teams play each other on the final weekend, these figures would not change. The teams are listed by cumulative record against the tied teams, number of points and points per game. The latter figure is used because Chicago and D.C. played three games instead of two against each other, creating an imbalance of games played amongst the tied teams.

1. Toronto FC (2-1-3, 9 points, 1.5 per game)
2. D.C. United (2-2-3, 9 pts., 1.3 per game)
3. New England (1-1-4, 7 pts., 1.2 per game)
4. Chicago (1-2-4, 7 pts., 1.0 per game)

Though Chicago would win a two-team tiebreaker against Toronto, TFC's record against the other two teams is better than that of the Fire. TFC would get the No. 2 spot, leaving the other three teams to be evaluated in the wild-card pot, which would also include Dallas if it beats Seattle Saturday to finish with 42 points.

A two-way tie between Chicago and New England would require the second tiebreaker, goal difference in all games, to separate them because they tied both of their regular-season meetings.

So how could the Fire's postseason be doused before it started? In a logjam at 42 points, it would lose a four-way Eastern Conference tiebreaker and the No. 2 slot to TFC, leaving just two more wild-card slots available. Colorado could take the No. 7 overall slot by winning at RSL Saturday to finish with 43 points, but even if doesn't, Chicago could lose out to two teams in tiebreakers and drop out of the top eight.

The Fire can avoid any anxiety by getting at least a tie Thursday. Otherwise, it will be a long, nervy weekend.

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