Chicago’s playoff hopes take huge hit after loss to New England

By Ernesto Hernandez

What’s that? Ah – Playoffs? Don’t talk about – playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”

That infamous quote was from former Indianapolis Colts head coach, Jim Mora, back in 2001 after his team lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Similarly, that is what one could have said last week when asked about the Chicago Fire’s playoff hopes.

However, the Fire gave people room for hope following their 2-0 at SeatGeek Stadium against the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Union. Despite having played more games than the teams ahead of them, the Fire had legitimately put themselves in the hunt for the postseason.

Against the New England Revolution, Chicago were presented with an opportunity to get even more into the thick of things by beating a direct rival and having a few results go their way. Unfortunately, the opposite of that happened as the Fire lost 2-1 to the Revolution.

New England opened the score through Wilfried Zahibo in the 17th minute. Chicago now needed to play catch-up and that they did when Nico Gaitan sent in a cross off a free kick that connected with Francisco Calvo late in the half. Chicago equalized and things looked to be back on track.

The Fire had a few chances in the second half thanks to the aforementioned Gaitan but the offense sputtered and the red-hot Nemanja Nikolic had an off-day was eventually take off. New England plunged the dagger in the 86th following an interception off a Calvo pass as Gustavo Bou rocketed a shot from outside the box past Kenneth Kronholm.

New England took the lead and that was all she wrote. The Fire could have jumped over the Revolution with a win but instead now find themselves five points adrift of Bruce Arena’s side and four points behind Toronto for the last postseason spot.

Over the last couple of weeks, the talk with the Fire has been a shout for consistency, especially in defense. Bastian Schweinsteiger did not feature in this game. Rather than play either Marcelo or Grant Lillard, Paunovic opted for Micheal Azira who had a decent game. Still, why have two natural center-backs on the bench, one brought in who was projected to be a starter, and not use them?

Chicago now has five games left and, realistically, need to win out to have any hope of reaching the playoffs. The schedule ahead is doable on paper including games against Columbus and Cincinnati but they were unable to beat these teams at home and by now their road struggles are well-chronicled.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Fire only have a 14 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. What’s worse is they no longer solely rely on themselves. Not only will they need to win out, but they need other results to go in their favor.

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