Fire Picking Up Goals, Still Dropping Points

Don't look so shocked, Coach. – Photo by Winslow Townson - USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look so shocked, coach. – Photo by Winslow Townson – USA TODAY Sports

It’s week 28 in Major League Soccer, and the losses keep piling up for the Chicago Fire. Last week’s meltdown in New Jersey marked the Fire’s 15th loss of the year, a new season record for the franchise. Any hope of salvaging something in 2015 is surely gone, though there’s still time to add to the loss column. But the continued lack of results is not for lack of scoring.

Chicago has netted five times in its last two matches, and nine in its last four, but earned only one win in that stretch. That’s especially frustrating considering the club’s early-season scoring slump. The Fire attack seems to have finally found its form six months into the season, but the defense has simultaneously reached new lows recently.

Manager Frank Yallop’s defense has given up seven goals in the last two matches, including four in the recent 4-3 loss to Montreal. To be fair, that wasn’t the first time Montreal striker Didier Drogba single-handedly made schoolboys out of an entire defense. But Drogba’s hat trick against the Fire was particularly painful given Chicago’s decision to waive his bidding rights recently, despite having first dibs on the former Chelsea legend.

Frank Yallop expressed his frustrations on the weak defending and soft goals allowed by his club after losing 3-2 to the Red Bulls in the following game on September 11, a match that Chicago was winning on the road 2-0 early against the current bosses of the east. The goals allowed were indeed fairly weak, and the back line looked unorganized, uncomfortable and out of position several times. That’s not exactly shocking given the inconsistencies in personnel at the back.

Yallop blames the recent defensive woes on a lack of awareness more than personnel. I call BS on that. While I agree that positional awareness has been a big issue for this group, I would argue that defenders would have more comfort and awareness in their positions if they actually had some playing time there.

I’m not sure what Yallop expected from a back line that’s seen eight different starting defenders in the last three matches. That committee of a defense featured Daniel Cyrus and Ty Harden at right and center back respectively in the recent loss to NYRB. The pair saw its first starting action all season against the league-leading Red Bulls. To put it mildly, Cyrus, Harden and the rest of the defense made highlight reels for all the wrong reasons.

Chicago shuffling the deck on defense so dramatically, so late in the season, is an indicator of how lost this team is right now. At this point in the year, one might expect personnel shake-ups due to injuries or absences. The injury bug and international call-ups have been messing with Chicago’s lineup all season long, but the recent roster decisions on defense seem to be purely tactical, not injury-based. (Excluding center back Adailton, who recently underwent a ‘core muscle procedure.’ I wish him a speedy recovery, but he wasn’t much help when he was healthy.)

As an MLS manager, if you’re still figuring out your desired back four, or any part of your lineup for that matter, halfway through September, you’re essentially throwing mud at the wall to see if it sticks.

The recent defensive shake-up clearly hasn’t paid off for Frank Yallop and company, but this is only the most recent series of mishaps in a gloom-and-doom season for Chicago. At the very least, we can look forward to David Accam doing things like this.