OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 22
This week, OTF’s contributors chime in on the big win over D.C. United, new Designated Player Juan Luis Anangonó, and look at the road ahead for Chicago Fire…
With a tough run of matches looming, nothing could’ve be more beneficial than a confidence-boosting home win over a faltering D.C. United side. More involvement going forward into the final third from a greater variety of players only bolsters the Fire’s ability to attack in increasingly unpredictable ways. One player cannot bail the Fire out of a potentially troublesome string of matches, so strong individual performances from multiple Fire men will be key in the coming weeks.
One player who many are expecting a lot from is new Designated Player Juan Anangonó. The Ecuadorian has an opportunity to impress right off the bat, and is entering a point in the season that calls for heroics. Fire Nation is hoping Juan will finally be the hero the front office has tried to find for years. Realistically though, he won’t instantly be that man. What matters is that Anangonó is a talented player who has the potential (and hopefully the drive) to become a bona fide goal scorer in MLS.
In league play, the next six matches are crucial. Every matchup is against a club the Fire is currently chasing in the Eastern Conference. It’s as important for these teams to drop points as it is for Chicago to gain them. August will define the 2013 season for Chicago. Remember: no one ever willingly gets dethroned, so the Fire must fight hard to reach the top half.
On a mostly picturesque evening, the Fire played beautiful soccer against MLS’s ugliest opponent. Much can be written about DC United’s train wreck of a season, but what matters is Chicago did what it’s supposed to do against an inferior opponent. You can be sure Chris Rolfe, Joel Lindpere, and Quincy Amarikwa all feel remarkably better for the experience.
Does this mean the Men in Red are ready for Houston or Philly? No. However, confidence pays little mind to the opponent’s point total. I’m betting my Quaker Chewy bars the next two weeks will be a building block for the Fire — partly due to what I saw during the first ten minutes last Saturday.
Lindpere, seemingly sandwiched on the sideline, sized up a momentary inward slide of DC’s right mid to meticulously ride some razor-thin space forward. In a marked sign of cognitive reasoning rather than athleticism, the Estonian crossed the ball deftly to the front of the 18-yard box when DC closed the angle on him. The result? A rare first goal by the Fire.
Lindpere’s was the type of cross and finish that leads players to believe they can score on anyone at any time. That is what you build on. That is what makes the D.C. result mean something. However, after Saturday night in the oven at BBVA Compass Stadium, 4-1 against MLS’s worst team may have meant nothing at all.
Whenever the Fire comes out of a weekend match with three points, an optimistic aura seems to surround the team. But let’s ask ourselves: Was the result against a less-than-full-strength D.C. United truly unexpected?
Since June 2nd, Chicago has only one loss at home (versus Sporting KC, who currently sits atop of the Eastern Conference standings). Thus, when you look at how United has played this season, a result in the Fire’s favor was not improbable.
While it was nice the Fire deemed it worthy to entertain the crowd at Toyota Park with a four goal explosion, Chicago fans should not expect this to be the standard going forward. Can anyone look at the great individual efforts that Lindpere and Rolfe put forward against D.C. and realistically think those two will repeat such amazing performances week in and week out? Of course not. The four goal performance was nothing more than an outlier.
On the bright side though, fans can take solace that their Fire bucked its confounding trend and played a complete 90 minute game. From start to finish the squad set the pace, which is something to build upon. If the last 90 minutes is close to what Chicago is capable of when firing on all cylinders – no matter the opponent — a playoff push is not out of the question.
Last Saturday, Chicago did exactly what a playoff-caliber team should do at home versus DC United: a four-goal field day, during which the opposing side never had a chance. Skeptics will say this game is meaningless, that any bright spots for the Men in Red there are negated by the poor quality of the competition.
However, in 2013, DC United’s average goals allowed per game is only 1.6, and believe it or not, they’ve actually pulled out a few draws on the road this season against the likes of New York, Colorado, and New England, along with wins at home against Salt Lake and San Jose.
With those statistics in mind, Chicago’s 90-minute domination feels pretty good, but might still be meaningless if the Men in Red don’t win at least nine of their remaining 15 games. Nine wins would put Chicago at 50 points, which could secure the fifth Eastern Conference playoff spot (assuming Houston or Philadelphia only wins around half of their games over the same period).
But to reach 50 points, Chicago will need wins against good teams. Specifically: Kansas City, Houston, and Montreal. The club’s margin for error is razor-thin at this point in the season, thanks to a crop of mistakes in March and April. With the addition of Anangonó up front, and hopefully some more help in the back before the transfer window closes on August 8th, nine wins is possible for this club, but far from a sure thing.
A dominant win like the Fire’s 4-1 thrashing of rival D.C. United will help boost the team’s self-esteem; but remember that United is undoubtedly MLS’s worst team. So, was it a good win? Absolutely. Should fans read into it? No, not really.
Fire fans knew a horrendous D.C. defense was coming into town, but the match nonetheless served as a way for the Men in Red to regain a bit of confidence after two consecutive losses. Joel Lindpere and Chris Rolfe connected well going forward, which is a great sign before a stretch of games that will reveal whether the Fire has a shot at the playoffs.
Welcome to Chicago fellow Ecuadorian Juan Anangonó! Being that my dad’s side of the family is from Ecuador, and they follow fútbol closely there, I hear a lot about how our new Fire man will shine on the national team. But while I’d love to be as excited as my family is about “La Pantera”, the Fire’s front office has let me down more than enough times when it comes to Designated Players.
That said, I believe Anangonó will be a good addition to the Fire family. He has the ability to become a great MLS player. Plus, Juan is only 24 years old, which makes him different than the old, past-their-prime DP’s Chicago usually goes after.
It’s make it or break it for the Men in Red at this point in the season. Chicago is just out of reach of the final playoff spot and must now step on the gas. With top Eastern Conference teams waiting, the Fire will either be knocked back to the bottom or summit a mountain of pressure.
If you’re a die-hard Chicago Fire fan who’d like to take part in the OTF Roundtable, please send Scott Fenwick an email at email@example.com to find out how to get in on the conversation and make your voice heard! Cheers.