Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) at Toronto FC (1)

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Patrick Nyarko takes the ball off Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan. Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

OTF’s Daniel Casey decides if he can’t say anything nice, then…

The Men in Red, Toronto and Chicago, were coming off thumpings delivered by Cascadia (Portland and Seattle). Packed with talent and potential, both Men in Red have consistently found ways to squander their talent, to allow their potential to wane, and to present their increasingly alienated fan bases with an aggressively inferior product. Wednesday night’s match at Toronto’s BMO Field was the chance Chicago needed to get a leg up on the opposition as the battle for the last playoff spot in the East gets hotter. With a win, Chicago would have leaped over the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution and made fifth place in the Eastern Conference their own. However, the Fire didn’t win and, in fact, looked as though they had no interest in defeating the second worst team in the league.

Before the match began, I made the promise via Twitter that my post-match report would only focus on the positives. By the end of the match, having downed several dark beers, I was in a dark place.

Chicago was without midfield general Arévalo Rios, who had just finished his international duty and was on his way back to his new club. Midfield responsibilities fell to Alex and Jeff Larentowicz, a pairing that has seen some success this season, while the Fire’s attack was driven by the wingers Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko to provide for the stalwart forward pairing of Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee. This personnel in the middle and final third are well acquainted and, one would think by this stage in the season, well-oiled.

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50/50 balls ruled the day. Chicago Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini tries to get the ball past Toronto FC defender/midfielder Jeremy Hall (credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

However, this starting line-up turned out to merely cancel out Toronto. Possession was 50/50, the number of shot and shots on target were nearly equal (8/3 for Toronto, 9/4 for Chicago), and the number of passes and passing accuracy virtually identical (316, 74% for Toronto; 324, 71% for Chicago). Chicago had a brief and slim advantage between the 15th and 20th minutes wherein the Fire scored its lone goal, but the pendulum quickly swung back to Toronto, who brought the score even in the 23rd minute. Statistically, both teams were so evenly matched that a draw was really the only result that made any sense.

At no point during the match was there any reason to get excited. When the two best performing players for the Fire, Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka, were subbed out at the 56th and 68th minutes respectively, it became clear there wasn’t going to be any fireworks. The draw demonstrated to the entire league and to Chicago’s fan base what the Fire look like when they play their A-squad minus one against the second worst team in the league.

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Dilly Duka during the first half at BMO Field (credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports}

What are the positives? Well, we can certainly say the trades and signings done within the league have been good for the team. Duka, Magee, Larentowicz, and Soumare are permanent and vital pieces to manager Frank Klopas. The Fire has a cache of young players who have held their own, albeit sometimes wobbly, such as Berry, Anibaba, and Alex. It should also be clear that certain players are no longer able to perform as starters but are certainly superb bench options; the question becomes will they accept this. Moreover, while all of this has only gotten the team to a low middling position this season (very similar to where they ended up last season), it should be clear that the core of the team is now set. This is the team you get. This is your Chicago Fire.

Rios was a good addition and hopefully he will stay rather than take the route of hired-gun Sebastian Grazzini (but when he was signed we all knew that Grazzini was a tourist player), and become the Pardo-esque cog the team needs. Perhaps over the off-season a Designated Player will be added to the defense and perhaps the DP added this year to the attacking third, Juan Luis Anangono, will blossom should he ever become fit enough to start. A Designated Player (or virtual DP) in every third of the field might just be the kick Chicago needs to move from a low middling team to a firmly middling team.   

There are seven matches remaining for Chicago. The possibility they could make the playoffs still lingers, however slim. This weekend against New England is an absolute must-win. If Chicago doesn’t beat the Revolution on Saturday or only manage a draw, they will fail to make the playoffs. Yet, even a win against New England only means the Fire must then win the following week against Columbus and win again on September 28 against Montreal. If Chicago doesn’t take the remaining nine points in the month of September, then their season will have been a complete failure.

OTF Contributor Daniel Casey writes about soccer hoping someday someone will pay him to do so. He writes regularly for Soccer NewsdaySoccer Without LimitsFootball.com, and now On The Fire. Follow him on Twitter @winslowbobbins

4 thoughts on “Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) at Toronto FC (1)

  1. This team is a real disappointment. Even if they make the playoffs they won’t go anywhere but out. Yet Kid Kloppas seems content with this mediocrity. Very sad situation here and unless someone comes in and shakes things up (a coaching change?) – I’m afraid this sad situation will continue.

  2. That game was such a letdown. I think we are all realistic if the Fire does make the playoffs they would not get past conference semi finals. The target should at lest make the playoffs when 50% of the teams qualify in the East. Again, such a letdown.

    • If a team doesn’t make the playoffs in MLS, it is, at best, below average. At minimum, the goal should be to always make the top three. Making the play-in game (and losing) it can be argued, isn’t even making the playoffs. IMO – the play-in game should be eliminated.

      Anyhoo, this Fire team currently sits 15th on the overall table. 15th out of 19 teams. Last season, it took 53 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. With seven games remaining, the best the Fire can do is 57 points (they’d have to win seven in a row). Granted, it seems the fifth place finisher will get in with less than 57, but let’s say the Fire will need 50. To get 50 or above, they’ll need to either win 5 of their last 7 games, or go 4-1-2. Four of their last seven games are on the road and as we know, the Fire don’t travel well.

      Rob’s right. Even if they make the play-in game, and even if they somehow win it, they will be gassed and overmatched in the conference semifinals. I think it’s fair to say that we have no evidence to convince us the latter scenario will develop though. And those who keep screaming “keep the faith” are only setting themselves up for disappointment. If you include USOC play, the sample size is 31 games. 31 games in which Klopas, unsurprisingly, has shown no ability to rotate his squad effectively, nor exhibit any kind of tactical flexibility that could either surprise his opponent or adjust quickly and successfully to the latter’s changes.

      I’m not hatin’. I’m just being real.

  3. Yes, it is becoming clearer and clearer. I think what really frosts me is the realization that the Fire is really no poorer a side than Philly, NE, or Houston, but we are getting skunked because “da Kid” is out classed.

    It is one thing to not have the horses to compete but I do not believe that is the case, at least in regards to making the play-offs. This team can hang with most clubs through halftime, but as soon as the opposing coach starts making adjustments and/or changes tactics – the Fire gets extinguished.

    I don’t know if Willy Roy follows the Fire but I would just love to get his take on this disturbing situation. Maybe I will have to stop by the Dolton Soccer Dome and see if he still hangs out there.

    One good thing about Coach Willy – he didn’t get into “coach-speak”. He pretty much told it like he saw it – and he kept it real.

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