OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Bye Week Special
Your weekly gut check on the state of the Fire from OTF contributors and guests…
In its last ten games (including the 2012 playoff loss against Houston), Chicago is 1-2-7 with a -12 goal differential, marking its worst ten-game stretch of results in franchise history. This season, the Fire are 0-3-1 with a -8 goal differential. Discuss.
The optimists have all but disappeared and the club is at a loss across the board on how to handle low ticket sales, one goal, and zero victories after four games. What needs to be remembered at a time like this is that other groups have figured out how to play competitive football with less quality than the Fire have on their roster. Hell, the Fire played pretty good football with less quality a mere year ago. The problem now? Confidence.
A confident bunch doesn’t see results like Chicago has seen so far in 2013 – especially after earning a playoff berth in 2012. A hole’s been dug, and at this point the only way out is to look up and see someone grinding out the difficult work needed to make the brave leap, Christian Bale style.
Therein lies the problem though. This season, the Fire has yet to field a player (Pause or Friedrich perhaps), a calming influence that others look can look to when the going gets tough. As a result, Chicago finds itself floundering around in a disoriented panic from time to time. But it won’t stay that way. Confidence and chemistry will come as the weeks go on, and this year’s leaders will either return or rise. We might be late to the party, but you can count on us showing up.
Chicago is in the middle of a losing streak, but I’m still positive. They were streaky last year and when they finally get a win, I think they’ll get several in a row. While watching Chivas thoroughly dismantle them in freezing conditions wasn’t an ideal way to spend my Sunday afternoon, I finally saw some hope shining through.
For the first 65 minutes, I saw what looked like a complete, professional soccer team – which is something that I haven’t seen much of this year. The problem though is that a full match lasts 90 minutes. The first Chivas goal caused a shift in tempo and a response that we hadn’t seen up to that point – aggressive, crafty play that lead to the first goal of the season (thank God).
After the second Chivas goal, instead of firing back again, we watched a complete free-fall for the rest of the match. Studying what went wrong from this point on should be the main goal of the coaching staff, because it was really painful to watch.
The team we saw in the first 65 minutes reminded me of last year’s team that could come out of a losing streak to beat “better” teams against all odds. If that team plays a full 90 minutes after the bye week, I think we’ll finally see a turnaround against a struggling New York team that hasn’t scored a goal in over 250 minutes (hopefully over 340 by then). And I mean it this time.
Sunday night I made a conscious decision to get my favorite sushi: a Kamikaze roll, a mafia roll, and an order of wild tartare. All of these dishes contain spicy tuna, made spicy via chili oil instead of the usual spicy mayo.
The good part? The flavor is great! The bad part? I basically spent Monday morning squirting out the chili oil. Its a terrible sensation of burning and shame. I know, I know, I made this decision on my own, but perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment.
Thing is though, my toilet experience provides a wonderful analogy. In the end, there was a steamy pile of goodness that resembled the Fire’s performance against Chivas USA!
For me, a more alarming statistic is that in the past 38 regular season games the Fire only have 7 clean sheets, with 3 of those coming in draws. That means in its last 17 wins, Chicago only managed to stop the opposition from scoring 4 times. A significant number of its wins last season were come-from-behind victories. What we’re seeing right now isn’t different from last year, except the Fire aren’t making the comebacks. So, what changed? The rest of the league improved, and I’m sorry, but this team misses Pause and Pardo desperately.
Those two guys in the middle of the pitch were born leaders. They picked the team up when it struggled, called players out for making mistakes, and acted as coaches on the field. You can dislike “Backpass Pause” all you want, but the players on his team respect and listen to him. The former DM duo’s discipline also gave our attacking players comfort; knowing that when they pushed forward, Pardo and Pause would clean up any messes left behind. On top of that, they were both incredibly clean with the ball. Did they make highlight reel style passes? Nope, but they kept possession. No silly mistakes either. They built trust.
Also, it’s important to point out that this ten-game streak of terror started roughly around the time when Pardo went down with an injury last season. Coincidence? Probably not. Some may say we lost our midfield generals, but I say we lost our coaches. They dictated the tempo and the game plan, and often pushed us to victory despite Frank Klopas.
I think Gonzalo Segares said it best after Sunday’s loss, “It’s embarrassing what happened today. I’ve got no words to explain how things were so bad…”
It obviously isn’t just Sunday either. Over the Fire’s last 10 league games, they’ve barely been able to score and have consistently given away silly goals. The record doesn’t necessarily reflect Chicago’s effort, but effort’s not enough. At this point, Frank Klopas must feel the heat, but is he solely to blame for this poor run of form since late last September?
Despite the hashtag, I’m not convinced the gaffer should be sacked – yet. His positioning of Alex underneath Mackie on Sunday was a smart move. Klopas showed us a sign that he understands the benefits of employing interchangable attackers up top. The combination of Alex, Santos, Rolfe, Nyarko, and Mackie created a cagey attack that floated up, down, left, right, in, and out to produce Chicago’s lone goal of the season. They were dangerous and moved at will. When fully fit after the injury he suffered Sunday, Alex should crack the starting XI and help this team.
Also, injuries have devastated the Fire. Pause and Friedrich are sorely missed. Their experience and leadership should help salvage the season. Their presence will mitigate the mental breakdowns that have plagued Chicago of late.
MacDonald played well against Chivas, but has to go. The club is paying him DP money, but the results aren’t showing; that much is evident over the last 10-12 games. If he truly cares, Andrew Hauptman will spend the money to bring in a player worthy of the DP tag, which will help bring fans back to Toyota Park.
These past performances have been rough, but I’ll wait until the entire team is healthy before making definitive conclusions.
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