Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. Toronto FC #2

Toronto FC and their -17 road goal differential are the guests for the Toyota Park finale  (photo: John Sokolowski/USA TODAY sports)

Toronto FC (and their -17 goal differential on the road) are guests at the Toyota Park finale
(photo: John Sokolowski/USA TODAY sports)

OTF’s Jon Denham understands if Dilly Duka and Cacha Rios come off the bench, while Tony Walsh from The Yorkies tells tragicomedic Toronto tales…

Lloyd Christmas’s pursuit of Mary Swanson in 1994 was a one-in-a-million shot. For much of 2013, Chicago Fire’s pursuit of the MLS Playoffs certainly felt the same way. Now, the Men in Red are better than a 50/50 shot to reach the postseason.

Our odds are even better, Lloyd! (quickmeme.com)

Our odds are even better, Lloyd! (quickmeme.com)

“Not good,” Mary said of Lloyd’s odds.

That’s what we all figured for the Fire too. In early August, the odds sat at less than 10%. Now, sportsclubstats.com says the team sits at better than 60%.

Mike Magee told chicago-fire.com earlier this week that the team returning to Toyota Park is “still desperate” for points and need to keep the mentality that they “can win anywhere”. Remember, he all but declared a playoff berth following the draw with Montreal.

Chicago’s league MVP candidate has been to the top of the MLS mountain, twice, and has, more or less, thrown his new team on his back in a quest to return there again. Words like ‘confidence’, ‘clinch’, and ‘belief’ are being articulated into microphones by players on the roster now.

READ Know Your Enemy: Toronto FC #2

The team is finding the back of the net in all kinds of crazy ways. Sean Johnson is in great form. The players added to the roster during the season are playing as well as they have all year.

Back to Lloyd and Harry. For all their trouble and mischief on the way to Aspen, they ended up handcuffed to a hotel room bed with Mary Swanson. Lloyd had a gun, a bulletproof vest, and a suitcase full of I.O.U.’s  as the “Dumb & Dumber” plot climaxed. The Men in Red might find themselves in a similar situation after the final whistle on Saturday night – securely fastened to the playoff bed despite the course they took to get there.

Hopefully, Klopas and company will have enough sense to get on that Hawaiian Tropic bus as they wander into the playoffs…

How They Stand in the East

(image: chicago-fire.com)

(image: chicago-fire.com)

Getting off the plane with three points from a crucial road match is incredibly gratifying. Doing so for two consecutive weeks is professional soccer bliss. The byproduct of the wins over D.C. United and FC Dallas to start October is a squad sitting 46 points and a spot above the red playoff line.

Last month, I couldn’t get myself to click on the September versions of Playoff Math produced by Jeff Crandall at chicago-fire.com. The imbalance in the schedule and the frustrating nature of the losses to Seattle and Columbus and the draws with Houston and Toronto were too much for me to stomach. However, now, I couldn’t get to this week’s version fast enough.

Mr. Crandall takes it from here:

Now above the red line and tied on points with Montreal (and Philadelphia), the Fire are actually in a position where they could clinch a playoff berth this weekend and still have the possibility to finish in the East’s top three spots, something that would have been unthinkable back in mid-May.

With two games left, the Fire control their own playoff destiny and after two confidence boosting victories, have a very winnable game in Saturday’s home finale vs. Toronto FC. 

How they qualify this week: A Chicago win over Toronto FC combined with a Philadelphia loss vs. Montreal and a New England loss or draw vs. Columbus.  

With the Chicago and Philadelphia even on points, how would this work you ask? If the Fire won and Union lost, couldn’t they still catch the Fire on points? Yes, but they would only tie Chicago and the Fire would already have a two-game edge in the first tie breaker which is total wins.

With both Montreal/Philadelphia and New England/Columbus ending before the Fire/TFC game, Saturday could be a very special night at Toyota Park.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

The opportunity to rest players on the same day you can clinch a playoff spot might sound crazy. That’s because it is. It is only slightly less crazy for two reasons: Toronto FC and Sean Johnson.

It is my belief that a less-than-100% Dilly Duka and Uruguayan traveling badass Arévalo Rios should be held out of the starting lineup on Saturday. I’m not inside Frank Klopas’s head, but he seems to trust Joel Lindpere and doesn’t hesitate to give Jeff Larentowicz the captain’s arm band. For these two reasons, I predict the manager goes with the lineup below. 

Rios and Duka come off the bench for me this week

Rios and Duka come off the bench for me this week

The recent form of Magic Mike, Juan Luis Anangonó, and Alex suggests to me the Fire can find the back of the net without Duka and Rios on the pitch. And, if necessary, Klopas can call upon them over the final 25 minutes to either lock up three points or push forward for a goal.

Maybe I’m taking Toronto FC “lightly”. Maybe Klopas and I are both crazy. But this has already been a crazy season, so why stop now? 

My bench: Tornaghi; Jumper, Pause; Rios, Duka; Rolfe, Amarikwa

OTF’s Jon Denham grew up about seven miles north of The Harlem End. He now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, and may be its only resident with the MLS Direct Kick package. Jon’s the Sports Information Director and goalkeepers’ coach at Loras College, and writes some other stuff at Inclusive Beechwood Aging.

¡Viva la Copa del Grandes Lagos!

Yo Illinoize! It’s all up for grabs – the 2nd Leg of Copa Del Grandes Lagos is on! Your Chicago Fire, giving the playoffs the old rub n’ tickle, versus our performance-art comedy troupe The Toronto Eff Cee’s playing the role of spoiler. Yes it’s petty, but if we can’t have nice things why should anyone else?

That being said, please don’t lose sleep. Yes, yes, we know, those prankster Reds managed to grind out a draw at BMO Field back in September, but away from Toronto they are a different beast – the kind of beast that hears a whistle, rolls on its back, and prays to soccer angels like a paraplegic, born-again Christian beaver with a substance abuse issue. Picturing it, aren’t you?

Anyways, we’ve got bigger fish to spoil. Ask most TFC supporters what the remaining goal for 2013 is (aside from a long cry) and it’s stopping L’Impact du Montreal dans le Bibliotheque from making le playoffs. Hurting you doesn’t help that! TFC is basically a giant troll meme against L’ Impact, against whom we conclude 2013 next week. We hope Chicago and TFC become better on-field rivals in the future, but for now we’re just your tall, goofy neighbour – invite us over for some bratwurst and have your way with us. Na zdravi!

A proper North American footy fanzine (image: theyorkies1812.blogspot.com)

A proper North American footy fanzine (image: theyorkies1812.blogspot.com)

On the pitch, TFC has evolved into a tactically inept pest. We are playing Scrappy-Doo football at the moment and taking points away at Toyota Park would be purely by labourious accident. If Chicago can shut down scoring “threats” like Justin Braun, you’ll be singing. Seriously, his feet are so concrete-encased we’re trading him to the Las Vegas Mobsters – Hey-ooooo! USL-PDL jokes, whaaaaaaat? Topical.

Alas, TFC’s heads are already turned towards the 2015 season (not a typo), and the only real player with much to prove will be the dramatically returning prodigal Swiss son, goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who starts his first match of the season and probably last ever with the club. It’s all change (again) as new GM (and extra in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise) Tim Bezbatchenko itches to begin our fourth consecutive Five-Year Plan this off-season with his “Allocation Moneyball” stylee. Don’t be jealous Fire fans, but TFC now has the inside track on Lance Blankenship.

So soothe those nerves Chicagoland… We know you’re worried about the playoffs (actually no, we have no idea what that’s like), but TFC are there for the humping. This one is Chicago’s to lose. If “Tits” Magee and the Gang play to form you will be a-ok. Remember, you can’t spell Toronto FC without “To rot, no?” … then FC, but you get it.

May the better team hoist the Copa Del Grandos Lagos.

Tony Walsh is VP of Regional Malarkey (Great Lakes Division) at The Yorkies. Follow Tony and his gang @theyorkies1812

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC
Saturday, October 19 at 7:30pm cst at Toyota Park
Television: My50 Chicago and TWCSC Wisconsin
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

#cf97 Nation

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