OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week Ten
Each and every week, OTF’s writers and contributors chime in on the state of the Fire…
Just about 1/4 of the 2013 MLS season has passed. Heading into the bye week, Chicago Fire is off to its worst start in franchise history.
Frank Klopas and company are 2-5-1 on the campaign, with 7 points out of a possible 24 and a goal differential of -8. In 16 seasons of Chicago Fire Soccer, through eight games, only 2011 comes close in its futility (1-3-4, 7 pts., GD -3).
Moreover, if we reach back into the end of the 2012 season (including the playoff loss vs. Houston), the Men in Red are 3-9-2 in their last 14 league games, with a goal differential of -13.
What must change?
The Fire have made it a point to be as baffling as possible this season. The problems are big, there are many of them, and they will not go away until every footballer in Chicago Fire Red fights the same battle week in and week out.
Logan Pause blamed last weekend’s loss against the Impact on himself. Were many of the errors his fault? Absolutely. Was it his fault he found himself in a position to fail in the first place? Absolutely not. Teams like the Impact are able to take Alessandro Nesta off the pitch and put on players like Wandrille Lefevre – a quality, effective sub. Chicago, apparently, can’t do the same.
Match in and match out, Frank Klopas patches together his starting XI and puts players out of position. Front office and coaching failures prevent decent runs of form and stifle the growth of familiar partnerships that win the small battles around the pitch and earn teams points.
Of course, the seemingly mythical return of Ze German Arne Friedrich may solve defensive problems, but it won’t do anything to alleviate Chicago’s futility in the attacking third. Sherjill MacDonald holding down a starting poison over Maicon Santos epitomizes what’s wrong so far this season. The players, the drive, and the talent are all there. They’re just all in the wrong places, with few chances to flourish.
Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe’s problems aside, the game against Montreal seemed like a game played as well as possible against a better team, while utilizing a makeshift back line. It would be easy to blame Logan Pause for the two goals, but the Fire’s central defending midfielder shouldn’t have been at right back in the first place.
Even after the ridiculous red card issued to Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago could have equalized if they had a striker who could strike. I’ve been optimistic about the Fire getting their act together up top all year, but my optimism is starting to run out. In tandem, Rolfe and MacDonald haven’t had a decent effect in eight games now. After reading Mark Rogers’s Dispatch following the game, I’m inclined to say Mac and Rolfe haven’t even played in position.
Chicago has a bye again this week, which couldn’t come at a better time. One more week should be enough to figure things out. If it isn’t, I expect to see firings, waived players, and trades when the international transfer window opens up at the end of June. Chicago needs a goal scorer and a healthy back line. The rest of the pieces seem to be there. Unfortunately, they keep collapsing around the forwards and defenders.
It’s like my dad always says: “You can’t win a game if you can’t score a goal.” Without goals, the Fire are screwed.
Not just kinda bad, or “maybe we could pull out of this bad.” Just bad. Bad bad.
Form has held from the end of last season, and even more questions have arisen in 2013. Why is our DP complete shit? Why is he still playing? Is Klopas watching the same team I am? Why the fuck isn’t Paladini the first name on the team sheet? Is this dip in the Toyota Park car lot actually a sinkhole that will mercifully swallow us all in the 65th minute?
You can look the other way for only so long, or pretend like the two good halves of football the Fire have played this year are the standard. The fact is, they’re not, and the decline we saw down the stretch in 2012 has not stopped – it only seems to be gaining momentum with each unimposing performance.
A good outing is rewarded with a spot on the bench the next time out. Anyone not named “MacDonald” who calls themselves a striker must wonder what kind of photos the Dutchman has of Frank. Being unfit due to lingering concussion issues is enough to keep you out of the starting lineup, yet available for selection (read: Mike Videira). The illogical decisions pile high.
When Santos, Paladini, and Nyarko form the basis of our attack, I’ll start to think Klopas is paying attention. Until then, as the starting lineups that make you want to punch your screen continue and the subs still come far too late, I’m not going to put much faith in this season producing anything like the results we hoped for.
Maybe a link up with the Cubs is what’s needed at this point. Shave some marketing costs and share a common rallying cry: “Wait ’til next year.”
Fans and the organization have been trying to figure out this dismal campaign for a while now. The solution: change everything!
The back line is one of the easiest fixes, but it requires a healthy Arne Friedrich. Put Friedrich back in the mix and move Anibaba to right back. I like the Pause and Larentowicz combo in the middle, and while I respect the captain’s versatility, right back is not his position.
Whether Rolfe is playing in the midfield or up top, my answer remains the same: bench him! I’m a huge Rolfe fan, but enough is enough. He’s not producing. That should be enough to be seated. The Fire will produce when Klopas mixes interchangeable players who combine in attack and defend together as a unit. Duka, Nyarko, Paladini, and possibly Lindpere are better solutions.
And how can I forget “ole’ MacDonald?” The man must no longer feature in the starting lineup. Santos is not much better, but he’d be something different. And he’s at least scored this season – twice.
If Robbie Rogers decides to return to MLS, the Fire should try to convince him to play in Chicago; that is, if he still possesses his Columbus magic. If not, Leon and Petrei better keep shopping for strikers and secure one quickly.
The Fire had the right formula before the tail end of the 2012 season. In 2013, they have better exponents to the equation, so there shouldn’t be any excuses once the squad is at 100% and available.
I’m sure the question above weighs on the Chicago Fire front office and the coaching staff each night before they go to sleep. How will the technical staff turn this failure around with the current roster and limited financial resources?
The easy answer is to dismantle this squad and rebuild it with a younger core of players. I look at this roster and all over it is a veteran presence that reaches near and over the age of 30. Are their legs getting too heavy to compete at this level?
The offseason changes smell like déjà vu of Puppo and Robayo (read: non-factors), aside from Larentowicz, who’s only truly effective when paired with a holding midfield player (Pause).
Without highlighting the numerous areas of concern, I will simply state the biggest problem: Chicago Fire cannot score goals. MacDonald shows some brilliance at times with his hold-up play and finds the gaps that can punish defenses with deft passing, but he’s just not a goal scorer. And if you look at his record before coming to MLS, he never was to begin with. Chris Rolfe is not up to the striking task either.
Lastly, Coach Frank Klopas should be under the microscope too. He has been unable to motivate and organize a team to win without using the 4-2-3-1 empty bucket.
There are no simple answers right now.