The Chicago Fire wanted the win or a draw in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal match against the host New England Revolution. Instead, they came away with a 2-1 loss and now need to climb out of the one-goal deficit.
With the MLS playoff series heading to Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Soccer Channel), the big question is can the Fire make up that type of ground?
Normally, home-field advantage is a valuable commodity, especially in soccer. But the Fire were only 5-4-6 at Toyota Park this season and were in danger of a losing home record if not for a Chivas USA own goal (1-0 victory, Oct. 22) and three unanswered goals against the Colorado Rapids (3-2 win, Aug. 23).
In terms of possession and potential scoring chances, it is safe to say that the Fire held the edge more times than not on their home pitch. But finishing has been a problem. For some games a defensive mishap also was the problem.
The Fire's one-goal playoff deficit is not enormous by any stretch of the imagination. That can be made up within a matter of a minute if they execute properly. But that is just the thing -- the execution has not met the Fire's standards at Toyota Park.
Here are some things to keep in mind for Saturday's game:
Two-goal victories: The Fire essentially need a two-goal win Saturday to take the lead in aggregate. So how rare has a two-goal victory been this year? Chicago has accomplished this just four times among its 30-game regular-season schedule: 3-1 win over FC Dallas (March 21); 2-0 victory against Toronto FC (May 16); 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes (July 18) and a 2-0 shutout of the Kansas City Wizards (Aug. 16). Strictly based on their regular-season numbers, the Fire have a 13.3 percent chance of earning a two-goal advantage Saturday to move to the next round of the playoffs.
Shootout worthy?: Chicago doesn't completely need the two-goal win. The Fire can take this to a shootout. But how confident is this team in PKs? The lasting memory this season was in the SuperLiga final against Tigres UANL on Aug. 5. The Fire and Tigres were 1-all through regulation. Then in the shootout, Mike Banner (wide right) and Justin Mapp (high) could not put the ball on-frame. At this stage of a match, it is a tossup as far as who will be available for a shootout, pending substitutions. Cuauhtemoc Blanco said after the SuperLiga final, "We need a little bit more personality toward the penalty kicks. You have to be stronger in character and always go with your first instinct." The Fire might want to prepare for this potential scenario.
Fire's lack of home offense: Opposing teams held a 17-16 scoring edge over Chicago at Toyota Park. The Fire's 16 home goals were the lowest total in MLS, an average of just more than one goal per game. They will need to double that figure Saturday.
Revs' lack of road offense: New England was not exactly the greatest road team this season. Sure, the 4-6-5 road record was just enough. But in terms of the Revs' actual work on the field, they were out-played more times than not. On the road, the Revs were outscored 21-11. Their 11 goals were the fourth-lowest output in MLS, and their 10-goal deficit was the sixth-worst in MLS.