OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 19
Each and every week, OTF’s writers and contributors chime in on the state of the Fire…
On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you about the Fire right now? Do recent results truly reflect their form?
July has arrived, and beginning Wednesday Frank Klopas and company will play six games in 25 days. Since the gaffer’s yet to show he has a solid plan for squad rotation, are you concerned about players’ health?
How do you see this month shaking out, results and points-wise?
The results haven’t been flukes. However, the wins were against underwhelming foes. Also, with the exception of a brief drive to Columbus, the Fire has been on home turf ,which makes every match easier. June was a great month, but beating DC United this year is nothing to brag about, neither is defeating Colorado or Columbus. It could be argued that the Crew are playing well this year, but that’s a myth. Their only significant win was against Montreal, and the rest have been victories against bottom feeders.
If you examine results against previous opponents and the standings, Chicago is squarely in with the Crew and Rapids as far as quality goes — certainly the best of the poor, but still poor. Yet, the Fire are surging and on a major upswing that could lead them to break away from the middling-to-poor of MLS.
Chicago must take points away from their next two matches. The Fire need to put up an impressive performance against Sporting Kansas City on July 7th’s ESPN broadcast; until the team puts on a display in a nationally broadcasted game, they will not be taken seriously by the larger MLS community. But it doesn’t end there. Points absolutely have to be taken on the road this month as well, and it will be extremely difficult to do so since those matches will be against Vancouver and Houston.
There are still plenty of defensive gaps that must be taken care of, but the Fire are mounting comebacks very much like last year and very much unlike the first half of this year. The lack of confidence, brought on in part by Mike Magee’s hat trick in LA to start the year, seems to have turned around with his return home to Chicago.
I like the plan Klopas appears to have of trying to rest as many players as possible, but bringing them on when in need regardless. I feel as if he’s trying to win the U.S. Open cup while refusing to sacrifice a chance at the playoffs, especially with Chicago only three points from 6th place. That said, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a dangerous and risky plan when you just have to hope that nobody gets injured.
Overall, I think Chicago can pull off at least 10 points in July, but as always, I’m optimistic for more. Sean Johnson will be out at least part of the month, which will make many fans weary after Paolo Tornaghi’s perfomance against Chivas USA. But looking back, that disaster was a product of the entire team, not just him. I see the Fire continuing their streak and coming out at the end of the month in a decent position to make a playoff run.
There’s been clear improvement since the team eked out one goal in five matches in March, but dig deeper. Their much-vaunted eight-game unbeaten streak has come against a handful of underperformers, non MLS teams, and internationally-depleted starting 11’s.
The Fire’s slow start this season makes an MLS playoff spot difficult to attain, and the criticism is fixed on head coach Frank Klopas. Kid Klopas needs a deep U.S. Open Cup run (if not the hardware itself) for him to claim 2013 a “successful season” (and for the Fire front office to consider him a viable option for next season).
Angling for a U.S. Open Cup run means burning the candle at both ends, and that’s a huge concern for a club that isn’t that deep to begin with. Suffice to say, player health is a concern.
Klopas did give Nyarko a half-match rest last week, which is a good sign, but the Men in Red have a wealth of mediocre middlemen to tinker with. The biggest concern is the defense , which is without a rotational player who doesn’t jeopardize the back line. Worse yet, the back line won’t have USMNT goalie Sean Johnson to cover their mistakes for at least half of the games this month. Back-up Paolo Tornaghi’s last appearances with the first team? A 4-1 loss to Chivas USA. That doesn’t spell good things.
With San Jose, SKC, Vancouver, DC, and Houston on Chicago’s July dance card, unless the Fire pull a gem or five out of transfer window dealings, expect a mere six points from 15 in July.
The Fire got off to such a poor start and the results as of late are incredibly mediocre, and it’s fair to say this accurately reflects how they are right now. Teams will eventually decide to take Mike Magee out of games, as they often do with hard tackles on Nyarko, and with that we’ll see this offense grind back to the halt we’re all so familiar with. It’s really key that Klopas develops a game plan that evolves beyond hoping for magic from Mike. History dictates that Klopas won’t do that though, and will instead lean on a summer signing to stave off that problem.
The next slate of six games will be crucial and painful for the Fire. You really have to wonder what complete and utter tool thought a friendly in the middle of July, where they already had five games on tap, would be a good idea. If you build a winning team you don’t need friendlies like this to fill your stadium. Why you’d risk injury and exhaustion with a friendly in the midst of a playoff race is just baffling, and borders on a disgusting money grab. Then again, with the Fire seemingly dead set on mediocrity, this becomes necessary.
I do worry about the health of the team. It’s a lot of games in a very short span of time, and asking the back line to play every single minute of every game is absurd. It’s just a matter of time before someone goes down with a knock, and then what? The return of Wells Thompson?
Gee, I can’t wait.
Aside from Salt Lake and Portland, Chicago hasn’t played any real quality teams in its last seven games, but wins are wins and they are coming more frequently for the Men in Red. That said, my optimism is at an all-time high for the Fire right now.
The biggest positive is the goals shared by multiple players on the squad. Shots lead to goals and goals give confidence; something that was non-existent before Magee arrived. Two goals in a 5-1 Orlando City thrashing might have awoken the sleeping giant in Chris Rolfe. The guy is streaky and the quarterfinal match may have lit a fire under him.
I wanted to rank Chicago higher on the scale, but the defense still worries me. The Fire are undoubtedly better with Bakary Soumare in the lineup, but set-pieces and the inability to focus for a full 90 minutes continues to cause headaches among the Fire faithful.
I’m not too worried about the health of Chicago’s attackers. There are plenty of players such as Quincy Amarikwa, Daniel Paladini, Maicon Santos, and even Victor Pineda who can step in and cause problems for opposing defenders when the Fire’s starters need a breather. Frank Klopas has failed to give the defenders rest, and injuries are bound to happen soon enough. The lack of depth is causing the Gaffer to take a risk, and I don’t feel it will pay off.
With the Fire catching some of its July opponents at a good time (due to injuries), I see them taking 9-10 points this month. We’ll see how far their newfound confidence can take the Men in Red.
I started the season with a 9 rating before the season kicked-off and dropped to around a 2 after a few games were played. I don’t need to rehash the reason for the resurgence in the Fire’s form, but the team has rebounded and they are climbing the table for a possible playoff spot.
Fire Nation would be ecstatic if the Men in Red are able to dig themselves out of a hole and reach the playoffs after a dreadful start to the season. I imagine the Fire front office is piping the theme song from the movie “The Great Escape” into the locker room on a daily basis. Note: EPL fans will recognize this signature tune that is whistled by supporters when their team eludes a disastrous outcome. I’m whistling it right now!
I am a firm believer that you always play your best eleven, so I’m not concerned about squad rotation. A coach concerns himself with squad rotation when then team can afford to lose points. Right now, the Fire cannot. This approach breeds competition to win starting spots and it makes players work harder to achieve the desired results (unless you’re Sherjill MacDonald). These guys are professional athletes and should have the energy required to see out the July schedule successfully.
My prediction? The Fire will win four of five MLS matches in July.
If you’re a die-hard Chicago Fire fan who’d like to take part in the OTF Roundtable, please send Editor Scott Fenwick an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to get in on the conversation and make your voice heard! Cheers.