The MLS playoffs are less than two months away and Saturday’s draw inched the Fire closer to the postseason. The question is how the team will do once it gets there.
With the 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls, the Fire hold a 2-6-2 record against the other five teams currently occupying playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. That’s only ahead of Columbus for the worst mark in that category among the six teams:
Toronto 5-1-3 (18 points)
New York City FC 5-2-2 (17 points)
Atlanta 4-3-1 (13 points)
Red Bulls 3-2-3 (12 points)
Fire 2-6-2 (8 points)
Crew 2-7-1 (7 points)
The draw also meant the Red Bulls took four points out of six in the season series. Toronto swept the Fire head-to-head and New York City FC also beat the Fire in the only meeting between the two teams this year. The Fire host NYCFC on Sept. 30, which is the last game against a conference playoff rival on the Fire’s schedule.
So is it a worrying sign for the Fire? Coach Veljko Paunovic chose to praise the point against the Red Bulls instead of complaining about failing to win at home against a team lower in the standings.
“This is a great point,” Paunovic said. “We played against one of the best teams in the league with huge experience, huge resources, great team on the field, sportsmen and everything. They push hard and we push hard. That’s what it is. That is what it’s going to take from now on. Every single game like this we have to play. We have to grind, we have to push, we have to give our best and the guys did that. Bravo them and fantastic, fantastic job from everyone. One point from this game means a lot. It can be decisive for the playoffs.”
Paunovic was as animated and fired up as he has shown in a press conference at home since he was hired before last season. He also convinced the team that the draw was a good result.
“I think we are the winners today,” said Michael de Leeuw, who assisted on the Fire’s goal. “We could have won the game, but at the end you see them pushing so at the end I think a 1-1 is the correct result. I think we’re happy with it.
“We knew also that we couldn’t lose this game because then with the game left for them they could have jumped over us. So for us it’s a great point.”
The draw as an individual result isn’t bad, and it does at least keep the Red Bulls at bay in the standings. However, it was another chance for the Fire to show it can play with the best teams in the league. Home draws don’t exactly inspire confidence in that regard, especially now that the Fire have failed to win in three straight at home.
The good thing for the Fire, at least as far as the regular season is concerned, is that only two more playoff teams are on the remaining schedule. The finale is at Houston, which is undefeated at home. That should allow the Fire a good chance to fight a better seed.