If you’re a Chicago Fire fan, you’re probably not having the best time in 2015.
It might be extreme to say the team is in crisis mode, but with a record of 5-11-4 (good enough for last place in the eastern conference and league table), it’s understandable that supporters would feel weary and pessimistic heading into the season’s second half. Along with the current product on the field, Fire faithful learned recently that Chicago missed a very real opportunity to sign international soccer legend Didier Drogba. The surreal images this week of mobs fanatically welcoming Drogba to the airport of his new side in Montreal drives home the notion that Chicago really missed out on something special.
Drogba would have been great, but Chicago needs more than a quick-fix attempt in attacking play and PR excitement. The Chelsea football legend is nothing to sneeze at, but what the club needs now is some consistency from its core group. The Fire haven’t looked terrible this season, and at times I would say looked dangerous, but costly defensive errors and a lack of consistent goal scoring have led to the club’s unsavory results.
As manager Frank Yallop has said many times, injuries and absences have severely hindered his side’s ability to develop an identity and produce results. I’m sure Yallop-apologizing (Yallop-izing? Yallopologizing?) is hardly welcome on the Fire Twitter page and in the stands of Toyota Park these days. However, I have to give the skipper somewhat of a pass on the team’s poor results in the first half of the season.
Yes, he’s made some questionable roster decisions this year, like benching Lovel Palmer, for example. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of playing young, untested players at an unnatural position in replacement of Palmer, a veteran wingback who’s proven his toughness and reliability on defense and in attack. He’s made a few bad mistakes this season, but he’s hands down the best option at wingback opposite to Joevin Jones.
I also find Yallop’s coaching style a bit passive and seemingly uninvolved at times. Apparently all managers don’t want to yell at their players in a match. That’s cool coach, but would it kill you to show some emotion? The more time I spend around him, the more I get used to what I would call Yallop face. (More or less expressionless, with a tinge of sadness) Criticism aside, the best players on Yallop’s club have rarely had an opportunity to play with one another, and I think that’s been a big factor in the lack of results.
The recent return of Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko from injury had an immediate positive impact on attacking play. The always-dangerous wingback Joevin Jones just returned from an impressive tenure with his national team Trinidad and Tobago at the Gold Cup. And designated players Shaun Maloney and David Accam recently returned from injury as well. If these guys can get consistent time on the pitch with the likes of Harry Shipp, Kennedy Igboananike and now the new addition of Brazilian forward Gilberto, I think Chicago’s attack could be as dangerous as any in the league.
Most of this core group got some playing time against New England last week in a match that Fire coaches and players will say they should have won. The 2-2 draw was disappointing considering the Fire were leading going into the final minutes, and the tying goal allowed was the stuff of amateur leagues. However, it was the third match in a week, and the fifth match in two weeks. It was fairly obvious that the club was playing with heavy legs against New England.
I remain optimistic heading into part two of the 2015 season. However, the grace period is over for Frank Yallop and company. For most of the season, we’ve heard about injuries and absences keeping this side from realizing its full potential. I agree, but the core group is back and healthy, (aside from CB Jeff Larentowicz, who’s expected back from a neck injury soon) so that’s no longer a valid excuse.
Chicago has had a full week of rest for the first time in about a month. The 20th MLS All Star game Wednesday night marked the middle of the season, and the re-energized Fire will attempt to take on the dangerous Western Conference leaders FC Dallas in its first match back from the break. The match will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1 Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. CDT.