OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 21
Each and every week, OTF’s writers and contributors chime in on the state of our Chicago Fire…
Freestyle! What’s on your mind…?
Has the time come for Chris Rolfe to ride the bench?
Rolfe has struggled mightily this season, and while he has started to create more chances lately, I cannot help but think there must be a better option.
Here’s Rolfe’s 2013 stat line:
18 games played; 1393 minutes; 2 goals; 0 assists; 48/12 shots/shots on goal (25% on-target rate); 0.13 goals per 90 minutes; 4.2% scoring chance percentage.
Notice his atrocious scoring chance percentage. Despite that he has played more minutes than five of Chicago’s eight goal scorers, the only player with a worse scoring percentage than Chris Rolfe is defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. Plus, Rolfe’s tendency to disappear for large stretches in games is unacceptable for a starting forward.
That said, why not give Quincy Amarikwa a chance? During limited playing time this season, he has been at least as effective as Rolfe. Why not give the young player a chance to develop up top and see if he can forge a productive relationship with Magic Mike?
Given the almost 1400 minutes Rolfe has played this season, it is safe to say we know what the Fire is capable of when he is on the field. But compare his play to that of Amarikwa — who has one goal and two shots on target in just 76 minutes of field time — and one wonders why the latter hasn’t seen the pitch more often. Quincy worked his tail off during the friendly vs. Club America last week, notched an assist on the Fire’s last goal, and saw about 25 minutes at Vancouver, so perhaps we’ll see more of him over the course of the rest of the season.
At this point, a team should employ replacement options for a striker who has a mere 2 goals in 18 starts. Chicago is no exception.
Now that the nine-game unbeaten streak (within which the wins came against poor to average teams, many of whom were missing regulars) has ended with two ugly losses in a row, the reality is starting to sink in: this version of the Chicago Fire just isn’t capable of beating good teams at full strength.
The proof is in the numbers, where Chicago sits near bottom in a 19-team league:
Total Points: 21 (16th)
Goals Scored: 20 (16th)
Goals Allowed: 28 (16th)
Goal Differential: -8 (15th)
Attendance: 13,433 (18th), ahead of only Chivas USA.
Record Against Current Playoff-Seeded Teams: 1-6-3
Do those numbers seem right for a club that resides in the nation’s third-largest city, operates in its third-largest television & media market, and holds the MLS’s seventh-largest team payroll (3.7 million)?
Chris Rolfe, a talented player and a good man, alluded to the problem in his interview during MLS Insider’s segment on Mike Magee:
“We were just a group of guys who were waiting on a spark. We’ve had this negative cloud around us for a little bit…”
No team with the tradition, honor, and passion of Chicago Fire should be “waiting on a spark.”
Where is the coach? Where is the captain? And even with Magee on the roster, many of the Men in Red still look like they’re “waiting on a spark,” i.e., standing around hoping that someone else impacts the game.
Mike Magee can’t fix an underperforming, bottom-dwelling squad by himself. Frank Klopas is a nice guy, but he and his technical staff need to ditch the meaningless manager-speak and admit to the current state of affairs if they want to stop losing and alienating fans.
Likewise, Andrew Hauptman is an owner who cares, but he and his executives must hire folks who can deliver a competitive roster. If ownership and the front office wants to change its reputation as the cheap and disconnected appraisers who signed Sherjill MacDonald, it must, like other competitive clubs, gun for a proven difference-maker on the international transfer market.
I hate to admit it, but the Fire’s dismal playoff chances are officially gone. The loss versus Sporting Kansas City the previous week, followed by the recent loss at Vancouver, were the nails in the coffin of the Fire’s playoff hopes.
Now, it’s time to start looking to next year. This means trying different things out, getting youth players some extra minutes, and resting players who desperately need it.
Of course, we all know Frank Klopas would never dream of playing a younger player unless his hands were tied. He’s nearly ruined the career of Corben Bone, and I suspect that Victor Pineda’s career will go the same route if he doesn’t do the smart thing and find a way out of Chicago.
Klopas just doesn’t seem to believe in an iterative, year over year, approach to building a club. Instead, he’s always opted for blowing up the team and making massive changes.
“The Kid” has either been the Fire’s technical director or manager for almost six seasons now. Most certainly, three of his last four seasons will be playoff-less, and the rosters that got Chicago to the playoffs in his first two seasons (’08, ’09) were fundamentally someone else’s creation.
Since 2010, when Klopas’s decisions began to truly impact the roster, the result has been a squad that starts each season trying to find its feet and gel. Come March each of the past four years, Chicago Fire never knows who it is and how it will do what it’s supposed to do: compete and get results. We’re all going to have to witness that again in 2014 and frankly, I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of poor to average starts each season. I’m sick of a team that doesn’t play a full 90 minutes. I’m sick of atrocious designated player signings. I’m sick of hearing where former DPs are being loaned to because they’re still on the books but didn’t work out.
This all has to end eventually, right?
Frank Yallop was fired this season, and wasn’t even performing all that bad for the Earthquakes. Hell, he was the MLS Coach of the Year in 2012, won the Supporters Shield, and led San Jose to a berth in the Concacaf Champions League!
So what is the Fire’s excuse for keeping Klopas? Right now, the only answer I can provide is laziness.
Maybe Sherjil MacDonald can take a role in the front office? Effort and determination seem to be optional there.
Strikers win games, but attacking midfielders win championships. Soccer’s truly gifted playmakers can unlock a defense better than any safe cracker in a Belgian diamond vault, and make average players around him look extraordinary (see: Ante Razov via Peter Nowak circa 1998).
Although tactical evolutions have perhaps limited the free-roaming central attacking midfielder’s impact these days, some still ply their trade in MLS to great effect. The likes of David Ferreira (FC Dallas), Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew), and new sensation Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers) are true CAMs who keep their respective offensive machines running.
Besides the looming US Open Cup semifinal on August 7th, the only notable news after two consecutive “let’s bring us down to reality” losses is that Chicago Fire has been quiet during the summer transfer window thus far. Will they or won’t they sign a new Designated Player before the window closes on August 8th?
The Fire did good business to land a quality striker and future team leader in “Mr. November“ Mike Magee. Now, I want the club to go after a central attacking midfielder in the mold of a Peter Nowak, a player who will make the men around him look exceptional, a playmaker who can pull the strings in the midfield and get this team back onto the path of Chicago Fire’s three tenets: Tradition, Honor, and Passion.
Wake me up when it happens.
If you’re a die-hard Chicago Fire fan who’d like to take part in the OTF Roundtable, please send Editor Scott Fenwick an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to get in on the conversation and make your voice heard! Cheers.