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Fire must fix road woes to reach expanded playoffs

Winless on the road and on the outside of the postseason picture, the Fire have three straight away from Chicago. If they don’t show improvement during their travels, they could be one of the four teams left out of the 10-team Eastern Conference playoff field.

Sporting Kansas City’s Winston Reid scores against the Fire during their game earlier this month in Kansas City Kansas.
Sporting Kansas City’s Winston Reid scores against the Fire during their game earlier this month in Kansas City Kansas.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Fire are struggling to clear the low bar of just making the playoffs. A big reason they might miss them — despite 10 of 14 Eastern Conference teams advancing — is their winless record away from home.

For better or worse, they’ll get a chance to improve in that department.

Starting with Wednesday’s match at the Philadelphia Union (12-3-5, 41 points), the Fire have three straight road games against teams in playoff position before they return home for the season finale Nov. 8. After facing the Union, who are coming off a 5-0 win over Toronto FC and could finish with Major League Soccer’s best record, the Fire head to Nashville on Saturday and Minnesota on Nov. 4.

That stretch would be challenging for any team, and it looks even tougher for the Fire (5-8-6, 21 points), given their struggles away from home. Even with a game in hand, they figure to need some results to get ahead of 10th-place Inter Miami, which is tied for points with the 11th-place Fire but is ahead in the standings because it has one more victory.

“We’re going to go into these three games with the mentality that we want to go there to win games,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “We always went like that, and we had good games on the road. The result didn’t follow, [but] we’re going to go with the same mentality and the belief that we can do that.”

Mentality and belief will need to be accompanied by points to keep the Fire’s season alive.

“We have to do more than what we have done up until now when we play on the road,” midfielder Alvaro Medran said through a translator. “We are one of the last teams that hasn’t won games on the road. So we know that we have to change that. We have to look at what we’re doing. And we have to win. Each one of us has to look at ourselves and do a little bit more, so that we can do better when we’re on the road and get those points.”

The Fire’s poor road record stands in contrast to how they’ve played at Soldier Field. They’re 4-1-3 on the lakefront, but 0-5-3 away from home.

Wicky, for one, doesn’t blame same-day travel protocols — introduced because of the pandemic — for the discrepancy. And home-field advantage has been minimized anyway by there being few, if any, fans at MLS games. So why have the Fire struggled so much away from Chicago?

“I think it’s always a big advantage to play at home, espe-cially in this league, where you have to fly on the same day now, be in the hotel, all that stuff, maybe be in a different climate,” midfielder Fabian Herbers said. “It’s always difficult to play on the road — let’s put it that way.”

The Fire need to cope with it or they could be answering difficult questions when the playoffs start without them.