By Amanda Beemer
The Chicago Fire have had an uncharacteristically lackluster start to their season. Following a devastating season-opening loss to the New York Red Bulls and a tie to the Colorado Rapids, a match whose score was largely determined by penalty kicks, the Fire lost 2-1 in their home opener to the San Jose Earthquakes; the Western Conference club had lost 3-0 to Real Salt Lake two weeks earlier.
The Fire, now three matches into the season, are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with only one point. This comes as a surprise for a club which has historically begun their seasons undefeated, and has brought in so many promising players since the tragic end of last season. Despite all the changes, the Fire are not producing results, a fact that is terribly disheartening for those of us who are still trying our hardest to believe the club’s prior official assertions that all the decisions made were in the best interest of the club.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Although Toyota Park was packed on Saturday with 20,276 fans – the highest turnout ever – our boys in red failed to capitalize on the home field advantage our fervent supporters strived to provide. Though strikers Collins John, Brian McBride, and Patrick Nyarko made for a dangerous-looking offense, they were ultimately unable to get the ball into the net. Midfielder Marco Pappa scored the Fire’s first goal in regular game play in the 52nd minute, but also managed to squander two golden opportunities by lobbing two balls way over San Jose’s net later on in the second half. When Collins John took a shot in the 73rd minute it was deflected last-second by San Jose’s Jason Hernandez rather than by keeper Joe Cannon, who had been lured off the goal line by Nyarko. Suffice it to say the opportunities were there but the Fire lacked the finishing skills to turn them into goals, not unlike in previous seasons.
This inability to finish is only one of many concerns about the Fire. Although Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos is capable of making intelligent substitutions well in advance of the last few minutes of play (a tactic prior coach Denis Hamlett was notorious for) his indecision about who should the fill left back position results in a lack of consistency for veteran defenders CJ Brown and Wilman Conde, who have had to deal with a different player starting each match. Additionally, the impotence of the midfield makes for a black hole in which players can’t find each other and possession subsequently changes with far too much frequency. Hopefully de los Cobos will make a lasting decision about his fourth defender sooner rather than later and John Thorrington’s injuries will heal within the week so that he may provide some stability to the midfield in ensuing matches.
As previously stated, in prior seasons the Fire have started out very strong, but only to incur a mid-season losing streak, then recover in time to make it into the playoffs, then lose it all when it really really counts (one PK, an away match against inter-Conference rivals the Columbus Crew, et cetera). An optimist might speculate that this season’s poor start may lead to a strong finish – a realist like myself says it remains to be seen. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of time for the Fire to settle into a stable yet dynamic lineup and change their fate.
This Saturday the Fire will be playing D.C. United, a club with an even worse record than our own: three losses in three games played. Perhaps the fact that the Fire will be playing away in RFK Stadium will relieve the pressure of playing in front of a full arena that expects their absolute best without exception (I possess this absurd notion that home game attendees are to blame for our at-home results). In addition, D.C. United is coming off a 3-2 loss to MLS’s newest expansion team, the Philadelphia Union, which also currently has a less than extraordinary record (1-1-0).
Perhaps the fact that the Fire will be playing a club with an even more pathetic record will help give them the confidence needed to finally get a win. Then again, that’s what I was hoping for last Saturday.
Amanda is a long-time Chicago resident and an avid Chicago Fire fan, and has been following MLS for the better part of a decade. Although she makes an awesome spectator, she is a god-awful player. She can be reached at email@example.com