Postmortem: Chicago Fire (0) at Columbus Crew (3)

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Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka cuts back behind Columbus Crew defender Chad Barson: Credit Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

OTF’s Daniel Casey ponders a first-rate intelligence…

There is no reason to believe that Chicago Fire can’t make the playoffs; there is every reason to believe that Chicago Fire will not make the playoffs.

A rather well-known sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald helps us understand this stance, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Often people gloss over that last part, “and still retain the ability to function.”  When you get to that point where you can’t function any longer, you realize that you are not a first-rate intelligence; you are, at best, middling.

There’s nothing wrong with being middling, many and most are, yet a case can be made that there is something wrong with lacking the ambition to be more than what you are. We call it complacency. But is it such a vice? To be satisfied with what you are? To be content with what you have? These metaphysical questions regarding intent and motive are how we position ourselves in the world prior to any action and inform our response after any result. Frank Klopas knows this. When asked about his side dropping a vital three points to Columbus on Saturday night, three points desperately needed to maintain the possibility of making the playoffs, three points dropped in an ignominious fashion with a first half red card and then three goals surrendered, Klopas responded:

We give up the red card and then playing shorthanded, and the first goal was soft. We were coming from behind. Really, we pushed the game. We had chances to tie the game and it doesn’t go your way and then they got a PK. For me, it’s all questionable, but regardless, the team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.

You see, Frank Klopas isn’t complacent, he is realistic. This is what happens sometimes. There is utterly no way you can control it. Best case scenario, you dust yourself off and do what you do next time hoping things finally go your way. It worked last week. The disengagement of Klopas when talking with the press is a Zen state that none of us will ever be able to master.

Quite simply, several players failed to show up in a match against a longtime rival for pole position in the hunt for the final playoff spot. Also, it’s becoming clear this team doesn’t know how to play with each other. I think it wouldn’t be out of line to say the Fire fields a team every week that has strong individual talent yet possesses no sense of what it means to play as a unit. This was revealed in the night’s most significant play: Baky Soumare’s red card in the 29th minute.

Woefully out of position, Soumare was burned when a speculative longball from Chad Marshall found Jairo Arrieta. Soumare came thundering across the field with no intention of winning the ball, but of simply downing Arrieta. Everyone watching could see the red card from a mile away. A sloppy tackle, maybe, but last man, definitely; straight red card. What was most frustrating about this was there was no reason for Soumare to make the challenge. Sean Johnson has been one of the few Fire players that has consistently performed for the team, thus all Soumare needed to do was push Arrieta off ever so slightly and leave it to him to beat Johnson. Most likely, Arrieta chokes or Johnson saves. But no, Soumare didn’t believe in Johnson, made the ham-fisted tackle, earned a clear red, and left his team down a man in a playoff-like match for the remaining 60 minutes.

It would be wrong for me to heap vitriol upon Soumare, for he’s the best option Chicago has to pair with Austin Berry. And this reveals two things: a criminal lack of defensive depth and the fact that Berry and Soumare have had little to no chemistry or understanding with each other during the entire time they have been paired. But even before this fiasco, the Fire defense was twice burned when it surrendered its left side, allowing Columbus’s right wing to have nothing but time to put away the first goal of the night. Fire Nation was forced to watch Dominic Oduro, with his lemur-tail haircut, score a goal and then celebrate by eating a slice of Papa John’s pizza.

This embarrassment was soundly on the shoulders of Gonzalo Segares, who would demonstrate an almost aggressive indifference to proper defensive positioning all night. It pains me to single out Segares, because he is one of the few genuine fullbacks in Major League Soccer. Not some wide midfielder forced back, not some aged winger given a last chance by being pushed into defense, and not some kid who has never been taught the position but who is doing alright in the lottery the coaches had for where to place him, but a real fullback. On this night, Segares played poorly and his poor play caused most of the pain the team experienced.

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Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The bleeding never stopped. A suspect penalty kick call took all the hope out of the Fire’s sails. As Arrieta found a brilliant pass from Tchani splitting the Chicago defense and he faced a one-on-one with Johnson, contact was made and the ref pointed to the spot. Johnson, going for the ball, came in contact with Arrieta, who upon the touch took to flight, and it was apparently enough to trigger impediment. Floating dead in the water, the final goal against the Fire was a simple run by Anor that not a single defender felt the need to challenge, merely to run apace with. 

With the loss, the Sisyphean Chicago Fire are still in the hunt for the final playoff spot but they have undone all of the success their last minute win against the New England Revolution gave them. Chicago must defeat the Montreal Impact next week, New England must lose against the Houston Dynamo, and the Philadelphia Union will have to lose against Sporting Kansas City, or else. But honestly, don’t hold your breath. Could it happen? Sure, if we push the game, create chances and it goes our way, and if the team leaves everything on the field. I feel good about the group because they’ll regroup and be ready for next week.

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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

5 thoughts on “Postmortem: Chicago Fire (0) at Columbus Crew (3)

  1. I agree wholeheartedly! I was hoping somebody would say it because I did not want to – but Segares didn’t show up for this game and it cost us dearly.

    Ultimately this team is doomed because, as noted by Daniel, this team does not play as a team. Additionally it is obvious that one cannot build a championship club around a defensive unit that features Baky Sourmare. He has demonstrated, to me at least, that he is not a team player. He justifies his antics and counter productive stunts as “passion” and “intensity” when in reality his behavior is nothing poor that boorish, over-the-top selfishness.

    If our defense is not championship quality the rest of the team is not much better positioned either. The dis-jointed play that has become this “teams” trademark has become sickening. As pointed out by Daniel there are some very good individual players on this team – but that is not good enough. I dare say that every last place team in any league anywhere in the world has some good players – so what?!

    This team may yet slop out and get into the playoffs, but they do not deserve to be there. This is a bad team with a coach who is clueless.

  2. I’m really glad Daniel addressed the Segares issue. Because he’s been such a staple of Fire line-ups, it seems like he was immune the criticism that has been fired at the backline this year. This match was particularly bad, but he hasn’t looked that great for the last few games.

    Everyone loves the guy though, is that making it harder to admit that he’s not doing too well this year?

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