After the Chicago Fire lost in heartbreaking fashion to Orlando City at home last Saturday, manager Frank Yallop told reporters that at some point, his team needs to draw a line in the sand and show some fight. Judging by the uninspired 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday, that line has yet to be drawn.
The Fire were able to contain the Revolution’s high-powered attack in the first 45 minutes, but unfortunately for Chicago, soccer is a 90-minute game. After taking a 0-0 score into halftime, the Fire defense couldn’t handle the constant attacks from New England in the second period. But Chicago’s attacking players didn’t do much to relieve their back line brethren.
It seemed like the majority of the match was played in Chicago’s defensive third, especially in the second period. If you’re trying to keep an attacking team like New England from scoring, but most of the match is played in your half of the field, you’re gonna’ have a bad time. That’s basically what Harry Shipp told reporters after the match.
I hate to say it, but right now the Fire are sort of the defenseless kid in the MLS lunchroom. If a bully gets the idea that he or she can just punk you out of your lunch money, what’s to stop them from constantly punking you out of your lunch money? On Saturday, New England was the latest bully to take Chicago’s proverbial chump change. The 2-0 final score somewhat reflects this, but the way the Revolution opened the scoring is enough to intimidate any team.
Things weren’t going great for the Fire, but good enough when the second half began. However, the 0-0 score line stood for only three minutes, when Diego Fagundez gathered a deflection off a corner kick for New England in the 48th minute and sent a screaming side volley past Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch to open up the scoring. The Revolution scored again just two minutes later, as Teal Bunburry sent a short but quick lob to Charlie Davies at the back post, who re-directed with his head past Busch for the insurance goal.
Attacking play for the Fire was unfortunately another story, despite having some success in that area recently. Before Saturday’s loss, the Fire scored ten times in its last five matches. But aside from two good heading opportunities Saturday night, the away side barely got a whiff of goal.
Midfielder Harry Shipp was set up with a sitter in front of goal in the 14th minute, but sent his headed shot sailing over the bar. The only other great opportunity came late in the game from substitute Jason Johnson. The Jamaican striker did well to re-direct a sharp cross from Eric Gehrig, but the headed shot attempt was parried over the bar from Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
In just 26 minutes as a sub, Johnson made a positive impact in a match that had the Fire looking like the walking dead. At this point, I’d say he deserves a chance to prove what he can do in the starting 11, at least when some of the team’s best players are out on international duty, as they were on Saturday.
Frank Yallop told reporters that his team can’t use the excuse of missing designated players Shaun Malloney and David Accam, as well as key contributor Joevin Jones on national call-ups. But the product on the field Saturday suggests that all three players were sorely missed.
Unfortunately, this team can’t seem to get results without its ideal lineup on the field. The combination of Joevin Jones, Shaun Maloney and David Accam matched with Harry Shipp and Kennedy Igboananike has becoming a threatening group of attackers in recent weeks. But the busy MLS schedule has demanded a constant stirring of the lineup. Because of its heavy investment in international talent, Chicago must suffer through summer matches, when the international schedule calls for players abroad to come home and represent their national teams.
With the challenging schedule and sudden dip in goal scoring, it will certainly be a welcome sight for Fire fans to see Mike Magee gain increased minutes in the coming weeks. However, the Chicago striker just recently returned from a nine-month injury and will need some time to reach peak condition.
In the meantime, Guly do Prado is not the answer. Sorry to any do Prado fans out there, but the 33 year-old forward isn’t exactly lighting up Chicago’s attack when he’s on the field. He started at center forward Saturday night, but half of the time it seemed like the midfielders were in a higher position than do Prado. At one point he was so far back that I confused him for a defender.
And while Quicny Amarikwa has shown some promising stints in attack this season, he’s yet to make a significant impact. He often tries to do too much with the ball, a habit that seems exacerbated by the current slump he’s in. The young striker came in as a late sub Saturday, but once again failed to find the net and is yet to open his scoring account in 2015.
It’s nice that the coaches and players don’t want to make excuses for the recent three-game losing streak, but they don’t have a lot of time to digest Saturday’s road loss. The U.S. Open Cup begins Tuesday for Chicago, and the club’s depth will continually be challenged throughout the summer.
It’s still relatively early in the season, and there’s plenty of time for Frank Yallop and the Fire to turn this thing around. But the longer the team shows a lack of fight and determination, as it often has this season, the more Frank Yallop will hear Chicago’s restless and proud fan base calling for his job.
Realistically, it’s way too early to do that, but this is Chicago, and every professional’s job is up for review. Coach Yallop seems like a really good guy, and I’m totally rooting for him, but I have to wonder what the halftime and post-game speeches are like for what’s currently a very underwhelming soccer team.
After the match, Frank Yallop told reporters that he’s looking for more bravery from his players. Fair enough, but he’s said something to that effect after the last three matches. Particularly on the defensive side, this team seems unwilling to fight, scratch and claw for a result right now.
There will be many tactical questions asked of the Fire in the coming weeks, but I’m especially interested in what kind of resolve this team has. As the song says in that great musical Damn Yankees, You gotta’ have heart, something the Fire are lacking right now. (By the way, that musical was based on a time when the Yankees actually sucked. According to those “sports fans” on Broadway, apparently all the Yanks needed to become a baseball empire was heart. Go figure.)
The Fire will be back at Toyota Park on Tuesday night for its debut in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, as Chicago hosts USL opponent Louisville City for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff (CDT).