OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week Four
Your weekly gut check on the state of the Fire from OTF contributors…
On the pessimism-optimism spectrum, where do you stand on the Fire right now and why?
While discussing MLS with anyone, the word “parity” is bound to come up. But one way or the other, Chicago went up against some relatively polarized clubs during the first three weeks and have a lone point to show for it. Fortunately, the club’s standing right now is not the premature death sentence some are moaning about.
Most clubs would be okay with walking away from LA and SKC with one point. The Fire’s loss to the Revs at home resulted from an “early season” goal that stemmed from defensive problems the Fire managed to work out the following week versus Sporting. Every fan wants to imagine their squad as giant slayers, but that’s usually the stuff of fairy tales.
The huge problem is despairingly obvious. Its solution is astonishingly elusive. Between MacDonald, Rolfe, and Santos, the Men in Red have not managed to score a goal in the current campaign and that pressure will only increase until someone steps up to palliate the weight of the big “0”. Chicago’s schedule appears ready to help though, with matches against Chivas USA and Red Bulls upcoming.
Contests against two equally disheveled sides will give the Fire an opportunity to find their feet, get into a rhythm and start netting goals. Looking down the road, these next two games will be vital – not only for the potential six points but because they will provide an opportunity for the squad to restore its confidence and poise. The next two games must be Chicago’s last baby steps; a more accurate barometer to measure its approach to the meat of the season.
I was wrong, and I’m happy to admit it. I didn’t think Frank Klopas would start Daniel Paladini. He did, and I think the Fire played better overall because of it. Their best two scoring chances were combination plays between Paladini and Chris Rolfe. Although neither led to a goal, they were the best chances we’ve seen all year from the Fire.
The defense has come together in the absence of Arne Friedrich. Although Chicago still needs him, a clean sheet on the road after conceding 73% possession shows that the back line can hold it together without him.
I’m optimistic about Sunday’s game against Chivas USA, even though they pulled off a tie while being a man down to a team (LA Galaxy) that stomped Chicago 4-0 on opening day. Sean Johnson has been called up for national team duty, but as long as we see the same level of performance out of Paolo Tornaghi that earned him Save Of The Week honors last year, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about at goalkeeper.
Joel Lindpere is out on Estonian national team duty, so I hope Paladini gets the start in the middle, with Logan Pause finally ready to make his regular season debut at right back.
At home, I expect to see more scoring chances, especially if Paladini gets the start. I’m just praying that someone – anyone – finally finds the back of the net.
The Fire currently sit last in the conference – with the worst goal differential in the league – so I’m naturally on the pessimistic side of the spectrum here. Perhaps it’s my own fault. Before it started, I painted a very rosy picture of this season in my head. It went something like this: A stalwart back line anchored by a World Cup veteran and the reigning Rookie of the Year, an upgraded midfield filled with reliable MLS veterans, and a dynamic attack led by a fully-fit Sherjill MacDonald. So far, no good.
Progress was made last week with the draw against the WIZARDS, and when Arne Friedrich and Logan Pause come back I think they will help to settle the defense even more and set the midfield up for success from the back. Unfortunately though, I don’t see anything on the horizon to help with the scoring drought.
Yes, Chris Rolfe looks to be in fine form, but I don’t think Mackie or Maicon are the answer, and July is a long way off. Perhapsthe midfield will be able to create more chances as they continue to have more time together, but right now the offense just isn’t clicking.
Long term, I think the Fire will be fine. But I hope they are able to get things moving in a positive direction before they dig themselves into too deep of a hole to make the playoffs.
Point me towards the optimistic side, because that is where the Men in Red are headed. Yes, the start of the season hasn’t been ideal, but the Fire are improving. Slowly.
I’ll start with the bad. It’s no secret that the offense isn’t a threat to anyone. Big Mac (literally “big”) is not producing and needs to stay out of the XI until he sheds more than a few pounds. Chris Rolfe had a great game against Kansas City, but will he continue that form? He tends to be a streaky player and that worries me.
The midfield still has kinks, but is steadily progressing. The players (most noticeably Larentowicz) have locked things down on the defensive end, doing their jobs well during the last two games. The insertion of Daniel Paladini last weekend was a pleasant surprise. He attacks and holds the ball better than Lindpere, and I’m curious to see if he will continue “gel” with others in the middle.
Berry and Anibaba have been solid in the back. They play well off each other and continue to win the aerial battles. Johnson has had two consecutive good showings between the sticks. A call up to the U.S. squad this week once again proves his quality. The defense has kept us in the last two games and is undoubtedly the best part of this team. Everyone else needs to feed off their focus and tenacity.
There are some positives to take away from the match at Sporting Kansas City. The Fire was able to grind out a defensive performance to earn a road point from a team that has been a formidable opponent over the last few years.
For the 73% possession Sporting KC had in the match, they only troubled the keeper for 3 shots on goal and the back line, while busy throughout the match, held their shape superbly. I doubt this defensive absorption was the game plan going into the match, but it shows that the team is able to work in unison, communicate with each other, and absorb pressure without breaking.
The negative here is that play in the midfield and the attacking third is rather poor. 27% possession in a game does not reflect MLS-caliber play. Also, with only 27% possession, Chicago was offside five times and essentially killed its limited opportunities to run at the goal.
The glaring fact is that the team has not scored in three games. I dare one of our statistician friends to find us a team in a reputable league that has not scored a goal in three consecutive games.
However, it’s early in the season and time remains to do the hard work it will take to meet expectations. I’m still optimistic that the coaching staff will find solutions to the problems that anchor this team to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
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