The Fire are up against it. Their hopes of making the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2017 are vanishing quickly, and they’ll need to reel off more than a few wins to stay in contention.
Unfortunately for the Fire (8-12-6, 30 points), there are numerous factors that make a postseason return unlikely.
There’s not enough depth
Midfielder Gaston Gimenez is out for the year after undergoing hamstring surgery. Salary debate aside, he was an important cog in the Fire midfield to help link the back line to the attack.
That underscores how much the Fire needed to find a reinforcement in the midfield or the center of their defense before the transfer deadline. Center back Wyatt Omsberg could be out for the year after tearing ligaments in his left foot, fellow CB Carlos Teran has had trouble staying on the field, and Mauricio Pineda can’t play on defense and in the midfield at the same time.
Yet sporting director Georg Heitz didn’t get anything done, leaving the spine of the team vulnerable. To compensate for Gimenez’s loss, coach Ezra Hendrickson might move Jairo Torres to a central role after he’s played this season on the wing.
Because of Heitz’s inactivity, further attrition up the middle could be fatal.
The schedule won’t help
The Fire got themselves back into the race with four wins in five games, but the last two matches have shown where they really rank in the league hierarchy.
East-leading Philadelphia ended that run with an easy 4-1 win, and then defending-champion New York City FC had little trouble during a 2-0 victory over the Fire. The latest loss is more concerning for the Fire, since NYCFC was coming off a mid-week game, had been winless in its last four and has dropped from its title-winning level after losing championship coach Ronny Deila and star Taty Castellanos to Europe.
Things don’t get much easier for the Fire. Saturday’s match at Soldier Field is against second-place CF Montreal (14-8-4, 46 points), which is followed by a mid-week game at New England then a trip to Columbus. New England currently sits outside of the playoffs but set a league record for points last year, and Columbus has traditionally been a difficult place for the Fire.
Judging by their performance against Philadelphia and NYCFC, it’s possible the Fire could be all but done by the time they host Inter Miami on Sept. 10 in Bridgeview.
The math doesn’t work
Entering Saturday, the Fire are 12th in the East and five points behind seventh-place Columbus. Not only will they have to leapfrog five teams, but the Crew also have a game in hand over the Fire.
Last week, Hendrickson said 45 or 46 points could be enough for a playoff spot. Sitting at 30, the Fire would need to average two points per match over their last eight to hit 46.
Even if the schedule wasn’t tricky, that would be a difficult benchmark. Only Los Angeles FC is averaging more than two points per game, and over a full season that pace would put a club in contention for the league’s best record.
There’s little indication the Fire can play that well, regardless of the opposition.