Dispatch: Chicago Fire (2) at DC United (2)
OTF contributor Daniel Casey mulls over the Chicago Fire’s third straight draw…
Nothing was pretty about the match in our nation’s capital last Saturday afternoon. Chilly, raining, and windy, the conditions at the ruin that is RFK Stadium reflected the morass upon which it was built. But that is not an excuse. Chicago is weather, and I’ll be damned if I’ll hide behind conditions when going up against coasties.
Talk going into the match was about how neither team had won a game. This narrative conveniently ignored the fact that Chicago had actually earned points while DC United had failed to do so. Regardless, both teams wanted three point — DC to validate their off-season moves and Chicago to demonstrate they aren’t merely rebuilding, but looking to compete. Unfortunately, the match ended in a draw.
Another draw and the Chicago Fire have slipped to 24th in the MLS Power Rankings. Wait. No. That’s just me being a dick. Grumbling about the team and grumbling about the league. Grumbles. There are always grumbles.
But let’s all just pump the breaks. We’re not a bunch of New Englanders, and the sky isn’t falling. In fact, Chicago is doing better and we’re all feeling better about this team than we were at this time last year. Four games into the 2013 season Chicago Fire had one point, had surrendered nine goals, and had scored one. So this season with three points, seven goals surrendered, and six goals scored the team is clearly better. Perhaps not enough for some people though — especially given how well the Fire were at the close of the 2013 season. Well, except for that trip to New York. Again, grumbles.
Saturday’s was a second match without the starting fullbacks (Lovel Palmer still suspended, but Tim Cahill walking free, and Gonzalo Segares injured), but the team still kept its form and played well. Greg Cochrane is looking more and more like the future at left back, and central midfielder-cum-rightback Matt Watson has shown he has enough game intelligence to take on the position and perform well.
Given how much of a horrorshow right back was last season (do you not remember El Diablo, Wells Thompson?) we should all be quite pleased. What disappointed me this match, as it did last weekend, was Mike Magee’s refusal to play as a true forward. I understand that playing the roaming false nine has been his role for a long time now, but the man scored 21 goals in 2013. Magee’s a striker and needs to play as one.
What hindered Magee’s dangerous ways was a lack of ball control by Chicago. Against DC United, and unlike the first three matches of the season, the Fire were able to be competitive in possession (48% to DC’s 52%), yet the team still wasn’t able to hold and control the ball more than its opponents. Unfortunately, the team conceded too many long stretches of attack to DC — One of which resulted in the scrum that lead to DC’s second goal. This is quickly becoming the script for Chicago: giving up equalizers on sloppy plays during moments of weakness, poor decisions, or a failure to act fast enough.
Saturday showed clear holes in the Fire’s game. Magee and Amarikwa kept occupying the same bit of real estate, which pushed Alex further back, leaving literally no one up front to connect with crosses or even the ever-present ugly long pass from the defense. There were also sub par performances. For example, Benji Joya was a nonentity on the right (not his natural position). But there was never a time when it felt like the team gave up its spirit to fight — a quality that was lacking the entire first half of 2013, and showed itself a bit too many times late in games down the stretch last season.
For every hole or one-off sub par performance, there were vital improvements. I still don’t trust Baky Soumare, but the man has been one of the best centerbacks in the league the last three weeks. Harry Shipp has successfully relegated Dilly Duka to the bench Quincy Amarikwa has made it clear he is the striker of choice over Juan Luis Anangonó or Chris Rolfe.
Summing it all up, it’s difficult to say this team isn’t stronger, performing better, and growing, when compared to the Chicago Fire team at this time last season. I keep coming back to this because it means this squad is ahead of last season’s curve in terms of finding its form. Last year, the Fire found their footing with Mike Magee and were one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the league during 2013’s latter half. If they had opened better, our Chicago Fire would have been a playoff team.
The 2014 Chicago Fire is a team on the right course. We can grouse and gripe and grumble. We can be ignored by the league. The fact is, the team is improving with every match. The only concern I have is the ghost of the 2011 season, the season of draws, of death by a thousand cuts. Wins need to materialize soon to dispel this spectre.
In the meantime, lemme see yer grumblecake…