Written by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
The Chicago Fire and Matt Polster have been soaring this season and are in good position to make their first MLS postseason appearance since 2012.
It was about 16 years ago that former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora made his famous rant about how bad his team was playing.
When a reporter asked him about the Colts’ possibility of making the playoffs, he yelped/barked “Playoffs? Don’t talk about—playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game. Another game.’’
Well around here, three of the area professional teams in or bordering this newspaper’s coverage area are making a run at the postseason in their respective sports and leagues.
Playoffs? To heck with Mora -- let’s talk about playoffs.
The Chicago Fire, which had the worst record in Major League Soccer the past two seasons, is in prime position for the playoffs. The Chicago Red Stars have been trading first- and second-place positions with North Carolina in the National Women’s Soccer League and also are eying the postseason with a decent seed. In baseball, the Windy City ThunderBolts have been on the cusp for a slot in the Frontier League playoffs.
So here is a look at the past, present and future of the three area teams regarding postseason bids in 2017:
Past: The Fire’s first MLS season was successful in 1998 as it not only made the playoffs but it also won the MLS Cup with a 2-0 victory over D.C. United.
It never got that good again.
Still, the team made the playoffs with regularity early in franchise history, making the postseason from 1999 to 2003 before failing to qualify in 2004. It went on a five-year run making the playoffs from 2005 to 2009 before hitting a dry spell.
Since 2010, the Fire made the playoffs just once in 2012 and lost in the knockout round to Houston, 2-1.
With back-to-back seasons of 8-20-6 in 2015 and 7-17-10 in 2016, a playoff appearance this year would be a refreshing change for Fire fans.
Present: The Fire headed into this week with a 12-6-5 mark, good for 41 points. The team was third in the MLS East behind Toronto (47 points) and New York City FC (43). Toronto visits the Fire at 7 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, where the Fire owns a 10-0-1 record and a nine-game winning streak.
The past two seasons, the MLS expanded the playoffs the door for six teams in each conference to make the postseason. In 2015, it took 42 points to make it to the playoffs. In 2016, it took 49.
Future: The playoffs start in late October and extend all the way to early December.
If the Fire keeps up its current pace, making the playoffs won’t be a problem and it might get a high enough seed where postseason soccer will be back in Bridgeview.
Chicago Red Stars
Past: The Red Stars joined the NWSL in 2015 and made the four-team playoff round by finishing second out of nine teams but lost in the first round of the playoffs to defending-champion and third-seeded FC Kansas City, 3-0.
Last year, they finished third in the 10-team league and lost in the first round to second-seeded Washington, 2-1.
Present: The Red Stars enter this week with an 8-4-5 mark and had a match scheduled against Seattle Wednesday night at Toyota Park. They will host Kansas City at 7 p.m. Sunday.
They fell to third place after a 3-2 loss to Portland over the weekend. North Carolina entered the week with 36 points, Portland 31 and Chicago 29.
The Red Stars have one more game against NC – a home game on Sept. 3. Chicago beat NC 3-1 on the road May 21 and 3-2 in Bridgeview on May 27.
The team is hoping that Saturday’s debut of Japanese star Yuki Nagasato will help turn this team into a championship contender.
Future: The top four teams make it to the semifinals and will battle it out Oct. 7-8 and the top two seeds will serve as hosts.
The NWSC Championship match will be held Oct. 14 in Orlando.
The Red Stars have proven that they are one of the elite teams in the league and are gunning to get past that semifinal round and into the title game.
Windy City ThunderBolts
Past: Since being changed from the Cook County Cheetahs to the Windy City ThunderBolts in 2004, they have gone to the Frontier League playoffs four times.
In 2007, it won its first Frontier League title sweeping Rockford in three games in the division series and knocking off Washington in five games of the best-of-five championship series.
In 2008, the Bolts won its second title beating Southern Illinois, 3-1, in the division series and sweeping Kalamazoo in three games in the championship series.
The Bolts made it back to the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 but lost in the division series both times. Windy City has not been back to the playoffs since.
Present: The Thunderbolts entered this week with a 41-35 mark and are still in contention to snag one of the wild-card spots in the four-team Frontier League playoffs. They were one percentage point ahead of the River City Rascals for that slot. The league takes the top team in each division and the two wild-card teams with the best records.
Future: The Frontier League playoffs open Sept. 5 with the divisional round while the championship round is scheduled to open Sept. 12.
The T-Bolts chances of making it to the playoffs are on the iffy side because they lost four strong pitchers – Scott Kuzminsky, Kyle Von Ruden, Kevin Lenik and Brady Muller – who were selected by major league organizations.