Bridgeview, IL – The Chicago Fire have flown under the radar for the much of the season, but they will have the opportunity to retain second place in the Eastern Conference for at least a few more days when they welcome the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park on Saturday.
Chicago has accumulated 47 points through 27 games, one point better than third-place Red Bull New York. As long as Chicago matches New York's result on Saturday, the Fire will find themselves holding down second place until at least Wednesday when the Red Bulls host Sporting Kansas City.
The Fire earned a 2-1 victory at Toronto FC on Wednesday to climb three points shy of first-place Sporting ahead of the weekend action. It was Chicago's fifth win out of six league games.
"Any point on the road at this time of the year is great," said Chris Rolfe, who bagged what turned out to be the game-winner at BMO Field. "I don't think we played well enough though.
"I think we have a lot of things that we need to address from this game in both boxes, offensively and defensively, because going forward, as the season gets a little bit tighter and we get into the playoffs we are not going to create the same number of chances and if we give up the chances the other team is going to punish us for it."
Chicago will buoyed by returning home to Toyota Park for back-to-back games against Montreal and the Columbus Crew. The Fire are 9-2-2 at home this season, winning their last four matches at the venue.
But Montreal will be highly motivated to pick up points on the road.
The Impact are hoping for a playoff berth in their first season in Major League Soccer, sitting three points shy of a spot in the postseason. They are running out of time though; Montreal will have just four more matches to make up the difference in points after Saturday's tilt at Chicago, but other playoff-hopefuls hold the edge with more games in hand.
Along with Chicago, the expansion club is among the leaders in the form table. Montreal enjoyed a five-game winning streak in which it outscored opponents 12-2, but that run was snapped last time out when the club fell to Columbus 2-1 at Crew Stadium.
"There are five games to go," said Patrice Bernier, who has been a massive piece to Montreal's success of late. "You obviously don't want to stumble now, but in no way do we think it puts us out of the picture."
Impact head coach Jesse Marsch highlighted some of the things that he thinks will be the difference heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
"Late in games, you see now, especially down the stretch, that a lot of these games are determined in the last 10 to 15 minutes," he said. "And important games are often like that. That's why the fitness has got to be important, but also the tactical adjustments and awareness of what, late in games, it's going to be like."