OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 30
Each and every Wednesday, OTF contributors have their say on our Men in Red…
How does a team that’s squandered so many opportunities this season retain a tenuously-high standing? No doubt Frank Klopas’s side played one of their best games last weekend, but they were backed up against the wall. The question now is: What happens when the Fire are sitting in a playoff spot and Columbus (and D.C., Toronto, etc.) can play the role of spoiler?
There has been little killer instinct to speak of this season with a number of wins and draws squandered, so what confidence should we have that Chicago will hold its standing as we approach the close of the season?
Air-drops of Soumare and Magee mid-season, plus Rios and Anangonó more recently, have replenished the Fire’s dwindling reserves, but the team — despite talented individuals — has yet to function as a unit, consistently. A look at possession and pass accuracy is a testament to the Fire playing as eleven skilled individuals, but without the unity, understanding, and familiarity it takes to succeed at the next level.
It’s now or never, and I hope my skepticism is proved wrong in the coming weeks.
I know I’ve been a naysayer nearly all season, but I’m sticking to it. This Fire team simply doesn’t have the legs to make it down the stretch and into the playoffs. While they beat the Revolution, at times the midfield looked downright lethargic and unable to keep pace with the action. Either that or they just weren’t interested, which has been a calling card of the Fire in the first half throughout the season.
The one thing working in the Fire’s favor is the majority of the Eastern Conference has been just as inconsistent and disjointed. This leaves Chicago with a fairly solid chance at a rematch against Houston in a play-in game. When it comes to the playoffs, the last man I want to see on the opposing bench is Dominic Kinnear, especially when I have Frank Klopas in my corner. If Houston can get healthy, I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t make another run at MLS Cup from the back of the pack, stomping on the Men in Red at the outset.
The Fire are still searching for an identity, and trying to fit new players into the mix. Meanwhile, the rest of the league is working towards hitting their stride, or building for next season. That’s why, of the remaining 18 points on the table for the Fire, I only see them getting 6 points (wins against DC and Toronto) down the stretch. That might be enough to back them into the playoffs again, but even if it does, it ends there for Chicago.
Last weekend’s win vs. the Revs was the game Fire Nation had waited to see from their team all season. When it’s all said and done, it will be the 2013 regular season’s standout match. The game had grit, suspense, controversy, and last-minute game-winning heroics. What else could a Fire supporter ask for in a game where all three points were needed to move into playoff contention?
The game in Columbus will be difficult. Realistically, the Crew knows it must win its five remaining games if it has any shot in making the playoffs. The pressure the Fire felt going into the Revs match will be felt by the Crew on Saturday night. I expect another playoff atmosphere in this “Last Chance Saloon” match for Columbus. If the Crew loses this match, they know their season is all but over.
Against New England, Coach Klopas threw out a starting eleven that was arguably his most balanced squad to date. Each player offered a slightly different quality that ensured a well-balanced attack. I expect the same lineup to get the call this Saturday. The toughest selection choice is the battle in left midfield: Duka’s penetration skills vs. Lindpere’s precision passing. By the way, anyone see the goal celebration from Cacha Rios after Alex’s goal? It was all emotion and left no doubt he is 100% behind the Chicago Fire badge.
The Fire are finally in playoff position, but questions about their viability remain. The answers lie in what Frank Klopas will do. Chicago absolutely has the talent to advance to the MLS Cup Final in a relatively even Eastern Conference. The squad has the talent to beat Columbus for a 4th time this year. I’m just concerned that Frank is going to get in the way, and neither will happen.
Frank the coach stopped developing for some reason, and I am really not sure why. At the beginning of his stint as manager, Klopas made plenty of rookie mistakes, which he learned from and didn’t repeat. However, over the course of second half of last season and this entire season, he stopped growing. For the most part, Klopas has failed to make effective in-game tactical adjustments; his substitution pattern is a “Coaching By Numbers” routine. Moreover, his sideline behavior is often boorish, which is reflected in his team at times. In the final ten minutes of the first half against New England, this was all on display. During the second half however, something changed. While his subs seemed predetermined, the coach and team stayed above the fray and laid off the officials. Instead, they focused their effort and passion on the game and were rewarded with three hard-earned points.
The bottom line is this: If Fire Nation gets the flexible, composed Frank, the Men in Red will handle Columbus and likely make a deep run in the playoffs. However, if we get the predictable, rigid, anxious Frank, the game will suck, and the season will be over in six games. Given the team’s inconsistency throughout 2013, odds are the latter Frank will show up at Crew Stadium, but maybe, hopefully, not.
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.