Chicago's road-home dynamic could be one for the MLS history books
We have been through every nuance of explaining just how awkward the 2009 Major League Soccer season has been for the Chicago Fire.
They win on the road (6-2-4), and they can't capitalize at Toyota Park (4-4-4). Nevertheless, this team is sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference and is in good shape for the playoffs at the moment.
So with an extended break in the action, this is a good moment to quickly reflect on where this year's Fire team would rank in terms of authenticity. Because the Fire's road-home trend does not happen that often. There are six remaining games (three home, three away) to change their ways, but as things stand, just take a look at how rare this breed of team is.
In the entirety of MLS play, only one team has posted a .500 or worse record at home to coincide with a winning road record and advanced to the postseason. That team was the 2003 N.Y./N.J. MetroStars, which posted a 5-6-4 home record, 6-4-5 road, then fell to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
That's the only instance. And if the 2009 season ended right now with their current road and home winning percentages, the Fire would be the second to accomplish that feat.
There have been some other instances when a team posted a .500 or worse percentage both at home and on the road and landed in the playoffs, but most of those situations meant they were playing within a weak conference overall. Four teams fall into this category.
Two of them faced each other in the opening round of the playoffs in 2002, when every Eastern Conference team had a losing overall regular-season record. Of the three East playoff teams, two had a .500 mark at home and a losing record on the road. They were the Revs (7-7-0 home, 5-7-2 away) and Fire (5-5-4 home, 6-8-0 away). New England advanced past Chicago in the East quarterfinals.
In case you are wondering, the other two teams with a .500 or less percentage both at home and on the road to advance to the playoffs were the 1999 Tampa Bay Mutiny (third in the East with a 6-10 home record and 8-8 road record) and the 2004 Revolution (6-6-3 home, 2-7-6 road). The '04 Revs topped the Columbus Crew in the East semis but fell to D.C. United in penalty kicks in the East finals.
Clearly the Fire's 2009 season is typically unheard of. This type of road-home trend just isn't supposed to happen. Even the worst of teams in this league generally hold their own at home.
All you have to do is look at the 2008 season. All 14 teams had a winning record at home. Everyone. On the road, only two teams were above the .500 mark - the Crew and Fire, both at 6-5-4.
The Fire certainly are capable of turning this discussion into a moot point. But for anyone who has watched the 2009 version of this organization, it is hard to fathom that the Fire are battling for the East lead without having a successful home stretch run to lean on.