Chicago blazing into MLS playoff race

BY Kyle McCarthy • September 24, 2012

Chicago looked like one of those teams that would just meander along this season. Sure, they had a few talented players to lead the side and a well-drilled system to follow. Maybe they could sneak into the playoffs. Maybe not. After all, other Eastern Conference sides looked stronger on paper, right?

Wrong. Chris Rolfe scored twice to rumble an opponent for the eighth time this season as the Fire downed Columbus, 2-1, on Saturday night. The victory continues a searing hot stretch that includes four wins in a row and 19 consecutive results over Eastern Conference sides at Toyota Park (13-0-6 since Oct. 12, 2010).

Those marks suggest the Fire's current second-place perch isn't an illusion created by a favorable stretch of games. If Rolfe continues his fine form in the final third, and the miserly defense marshaled by former German international Arne Friedrich and rookie Austin Berry continues to keep teams out, this Chicago side may just continue to exceed expectations all the way through the postseason.

Frank Klopas' group climbed up the rankings this week after winning its seventh match in eight games, but another dominant side once again claimed top spot in this week's FOX Soccer MLS Power Rankings:

19. TORONTO FC: The Reds attempted to create their own Istanbul moment with a staggering and somewhat unorthodox comeback at Los Angeles on Saturday. As usual, it fell just a bit short.

18. CHIVAS USA: Every match feels like the same impotent and painful experience on repeat at this point.

17. PORTLAND TIMBERS: Kris Boyd's potentially season-ending groin injury won't have any impact on the Timbers as they close out their season. That speaks volumes about his mediocre contribution to this underwhelming season.

16. COLORADO RAPIDS: They drew Vancouver. Ugh. On the bright side, the Rapids can point to their noticeable improvement in possession as a touchstone from this lost first season under Oscar Pareja.

15. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION: One sliver of hope in this rebuilding campaign: their16-game home unbeaten run over New York continued after Darrius Barnes' last-gasp equalizer on Saturday night.

14. PHILADELPHIA UNION: Beleaguered phenom Freddy Adu engineered one of his best performances of the season with his two-goal effort in Philadelphia's 3-1 victory over Houston on Sunday. As always, there was a caveat: he limped off during the second half with a quadriceps strain.

13. MONTREAL IMPACT: Marco Di Vaio saw his streak of consecutive matches with a goal stopped at four in the Impact's 0-0 home draw with Sporting Kansas City.

12. FC DALLAS: Cheers emanated from Frisco on Sunday night. Confused Cowboys fans just couldn't figure out why.

11. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS: No excuses for two dropped points against the Rapids at home. But at least the five-game losing streak is over, right?

10. COLUMBUS CREW: A point at Toyota Park would have sufficed, but the defeat – combined with D.C. United's three victories in eight days – will make the playoff push a bit more difficult than it looked a week ago.

9. HOUSTON DYNAMO: Dominic Kinnear and his players can only hope that the limp 3-1 defeat at Philadelphia on Sunday does not comprise the difference between a playoff berth and a tee time.

8. D.C. UNITED: The post-De Rosario United isn't pretty, but it sure is effective.

7. REAL SALT LAKE: A glimpse into the less prolific RSL attack without the injured Álvaro Saborío (separated right shoulder): set piece goals from Fabián Espíndola and Javier Morales provided the difference in a 2-1 home win over Portland on Saturday night.

6. NEW YORK RED BULLS: The one-match ban handed to Thierry Henry for a head-butt meant nothing to either the player or his club. Why? He wouldn't have played on the artificial surface at Gillette Stadium this weekend anyways.

5. SEATTLE SOUNDERS: For all of its talent, this group desperately needs Mauro Rosales on the field at all times to pull the strings.

4. LOS ANGELES GALAXY: Perhaps the Galaxy felt a little bored en route to a fifth win in six attempts. Why else would Bruce Arena's side allow TFC to hang around in the second half?

3. CHICAGO FIRE: Is this team built for a deep postseason run after feasting on a soft schedule? Or is this impressive surge just a nice way to secure a playoff berth?

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY: More than a few teams would have liked to shut up shop at Stade Saputo as effectively as Peter Vermes' side did in the 0-0 draw on Saturday.

1. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES: Any reasonable debate surrounding the fate of the top seed in the Western Conference ended with the Earthquakes' 2-1 victory at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.