OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 19
OTF Roundtablers break out their grade books and embark upon a mid-term review…
17 games in and Chicago Fire sits at 3-4-10, eighth place in the MLS Eastern Conference, and a mere four points off the thin red playoff line.
So, midway through this 2014 season, what grade do you give Frank Yallop and company? Who is the first half’s most outstanding player? Most disappointing player?
The immediate reaction would be to look at the standings, look at the quality of product on the field, and give the team a big fat F. Some context is needed though.
It’s more apparent now than at the beginning of the year that Frank Yallop & company inherited what HGTV might call a “Total Gut Rehab.” The team had to be stripped down to its skeleton — shedding payroll and fan favorites as they went — in order to effectively rebuild.
Despite all that change (14 new players since the end of 2013), and an unseemly string of draws, the team appears to be set up for future success. Chicago now has a future in the dynamic R.O.Y. candidate Harrison Shipp, plus youthful potential in Chris Ritter, Grant Ward, and Benji Hoya. In fact, success in the form of a US Open Cup run and/or a MLS playoff berth this year remains a real possibility. The Fire just needs a reliable center back, and I suspect (pray) this glaring hole will be plugged by the end of the transfer window.
Most Outstanding Player: Harry Shipp
Most Disappointing Player: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
I still think this team is better than many people are giving it credit for. If you’d told me in February that Chicago would only have four losses at the halfway point, I would have taken that. I just wouldn’t have figured on ten draws. The Fire, despite many obvious holes, remain very tough to beat. For a franchise going through this kind of roster turnover, management turnover, financial restructuring, and dealing with as many injuries as this one is, that’s not a bad place to start.
I still see the playoffs as a real possibility for this squad. The defense seems to finally be jelling (Johnson’s been spectacular and Palmer has been the most improved player on the club since week one). The midfield just got the long-awaited promise of consistency with the signing of Razvan Cocis (a non-DP signing, might I add). Larentowicz has been quietly solid, Shipp and Amarikwa have been revelations, and Magee seems to be shaking the rust off from missing early season training with injuries.
Like it or not, this is a rebuilding year. I offer optimism in the evidence that this team is clearly building for the long term.
Most Outstanding Player: Harry Shipp. With apologies to Quincy, no rookie should have this much of an impact this soon.
Biggest Disappointment: Juan Luis Anangonó. He was given every opportunity to justify his contract and found himself bypassed for top striker by a guy Klopas barely let come off the bench.
Technically, they’re passing, but barely, and although it shouldn’t be good enough, the Fire are still only two wins out of a playoff spot.
Having the least losses in the conference is a decent feat, until you take into account Chicago also has the least wins. They are so close to being one of the best teams in the league, but unless they get can keep the back line in shape, they’ll continue to ride the line between draws and barely winning, which just isn’t good enough.
Clean up the back line and I think the Fire could climb to a B or B+, which isn’t bad for yet another rebuilding year.
Most Outstanding Player: Harry Shipp. Easily. I expected him to be good, but he’s outdone every expectation I had and continues to improve as the weeks go on. Assuming injury or fatigue don’t get the better of him, I expect him to only get better and easily take home Rookie of the Year honors.
Biggest disappointment: Bakary Soumare. He has flashes of brilliance and great play, but for his salary, it just isn’t enough. He’s still better than some of the alternatives, but you really have to live up to the salary strain you put on the team, and he doesn’t.
Through 17 games, the Fire have played boring, uninspired soccer. They’re lucky they’ve managed so many draws or this season would already be over. Right now, they’re only FOUR points out of the playoffs! FOUR!!! They’re a three-game hot streak away from being a playoff team despite their miserable first half. They’ve added Cocis, which despite not being a big name, looks to be a solid move, and supposedly they’re not done.
Open your wallet, Andy. The team is knocking on the postseason’s door. don’t let ANOTHER opportunity pass you by to elevate the club. Attendance is up this year, so give the fans a reason to keep coming out.
Most Outstanding Player: Harry Shipp. He should be the unanimous choice. He’s been scoring, he’s been setting up goals, and he’s added new life to set pieces with his excellent placement. He’s been one of the best players in MLS this season.
Most Disappointing Player: Grant Ward. This one is not Mr. Ward’s fault. Based on what I saw during pre-season, I thought he was going to be a game breaker. But because of injury and mediocre play, he’s just not living up to the hype I gave him. I’m sorry Grant. The best thing about midseason is you have plenty of time to turn it around!