OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week 11
The Roundtable ponders whether Chicago Fire is better than their record shows…
After the Red Bull win a couple of weeks ago, New Jersey fans took to Twitter to lament their team’s astounding loss to the Fire (The Fire?!) at Red Bull Arena. Some went so far as to say they would jump the ship to NYCFC. The implication? Losing at home was bad enough, but losing to a team as poor as Chicago was unacceptable.
In reply, I tweeted that said fans were overreacting. I claimed the Fire were better than their record and this would soon show.
Fast forward to this past weekend at Toyota Park. The Fire narrowly beat a Sporting Kansas City side that had played the previous Wednesday. SKC was missing Zusi, Rosell, Besler, Collin, and Odom. The visitors were forced to abandon their trusty 4-3-3 for a makeshift 3-5-2, featuring seventeen year-old debutant Erik Palmer-Brown anchoring the back line. After Palmer-Brown earned his second yellow, and subsequent red card, the Fire played with a man advantage for approximately 30 minutes.
In the end, Chicago only managed a 2-1 victory, without scoring a goal from the run of play.
Is Chicago Fire truly better than its record (2-2-6, 12 pts.) shows?
The Fire are definitely better than their early season record suggests. It’s a story line that Fire fans are used to at this point. The team looks good in preseason with a slate of fresh and exciting players, but come the regular season the Men in Red just can’t seem to get the ball rolling. Then, the boys turn it around, leaving the supporters to crunch the numbers on whether the Fire will be a post-season team or not.
Yet, this season’s early flop hasn’t been quite the same. There hasn’t been anything as bad as getting blown out by Chivas USA or getting shut out by New England Revolution at home. Instead, Chicago is losing by small margins, often due to a lack of experience, both as a unit and as individual players.
Heading into this run of May matches the opponents on the docket were a source of fatalistic humor. Now though, the Fire are on a two-game winning streak, with the first win more convincing than the second.
If the Fire can extend their win streak and pull off wins against the Crew in Columbus and the Galaxy at Toyota Park the season will most certainly be back on track and Fire fans should be confident in their team’s chances going forward. Columbus against Chicago is always a wild card match where anything can happen, and LA is missing two of its DPs (Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez) to USMNT camp. Nothing is ever promised in soccer, but it will be hard not be optimistic about the Fire if they can string together four wins in a row.
The Fire are undoubtedly better than their record would indicate, and a mere glance at the Eastern Conference table would put all ten Red Bulls fans at ease. With the exception of DC United (ten games), the Fire (ten games) have played less than the other four current playoff teams, yet sit a mere two points from joining that group. While the team defense still leaves something to be desired (19 goals against), the fact is the Fire have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard an East low two times, which means Yallop’s boys are at least doing something right.
Thanks to the emergence of Quincy Amarikwa and Harry Shipp, Chicago has amassed 19 goals, putting them atop the East (tied with New England; who have played one more game). Such scoring prowess should garner respect throughout the league and the realization that the Men in Red can win on any given night when they are consistently putting the ball in the back of the net.
Certainly, teams sitting just below the playoff line always have something in their respective seasons to point to and wonder “what if.” The Fire have had two such moments already: the missed, late penalties against New England and Philadelphia. The four points dropped by lackluster efforts from the penalty spot would have put the Fire comfortably in the 4th position, thus dropping RBNY to 6th. What would Red Bulls’ supporters response be then?
Juan Santoliva is on vacation this week.
A simple “yes” answer would point to the tired argument that the Fire is two PKs away from an additional four points and playoff position. But pointing to the missed PKs shows how the Fire has evolved into a better team. I’ve used the word “team” because while certain players missed the PKs, they did so in the context of a team trying to “find itself.” Soccer is an emotional sport, and should be played with passion and conviction. At the start of the season the team lacked these intangibles and underperformed.
Now, Chicago has rebounded after an epic collapse versus RSL. The last two wins were not pretty, but they showed potential — especially at RBNY. The Fire is a better team when it plays with passion and not fear, and part of this appetite to win comes from Quincy Amarikwa; his attempt to steal the ball from ‘keeper Luis Robles a couple of weeks ago was truly awesome.
Last weekend may have shown the true mettle of the team. Magee fired in PKs with power and conviction and gave his team some much-needed swagger. And unlike his prior missed PK (or JLA’s), the crowd had Mike’s back with a strong “WE can do this” attitude. Although they gave up a another groan-inducing goal on a set piece, the team can only improve in that area – just like it did with PKs.
Sure, the Fire beat a depleted SKC, but this victory will give Yallop and company the courage and passion to face them again in two future matches at Sporting Park.