The Brian Bliss era began Wednesday night, and it seemed to resemble the entire Chicago Fire season – sprinkled with hints of progress and close calls, but mostly confusion and resounding disappointment.
Chicago had a handful of missed scoring chances against the home side Montreal Impact, and was ultimately outplayed in a 2-1 defeat, extending its current losing streak to four games. The loss eliminates the Fire from the playoffs officially, and with only four games remaining this season, Chicago still seeks its first road win of 2015. Wednesday’s loss is Chicago’s 17th on the year, which is a new franchise low. The hits just keep on coming.
Being the interim manager, Chicago’s new head coach Brian Bliss represents a failed season for the Chicago Fire. After all, nothing says ‘we’ll get em’ next year’ like a shiny new interim coach. Meanwhile, Didier Drogba is single-handedly leading Montreal to a playoff birth.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Bliss’s first opponent was the Montreal Drogbas Impact. Two months ago, Chicago waived Dorgba’s contract rights to Montreal for $500,000. Now, the long-time Chelsea striker has already scored four times in two matches against the Fire. One of those goals opened up the scoring Wednesday night, when the Impact hosted Chicago at Stade Saputo in Montreal.
In the final minutes of the first half, Nigel Reo-Coker of the Impact lobbed in a cross from the wing that found a poaching Drogba for an easy header and goal six feet in front of the net. It seemed like a strong, typical Drogba-like finish at first, but the replay suggested otherwise. On second glance, Drogba appeared to shove Fire center back Jeff Larentowicz to the ground, clearly fouling him in order to reach the header and goal.
I won’t say that the ref and league were pandering to Drogba, but there were some obvious inconsistencies with the officiating in general Wednesday night.
It was a tale of two halves for referee Fotis Bazakos, who was relaxed in the first half, allowing play to continue after several debatable no-calls. I like the idea of letting players play and allowing a flow to the game, as long as the ref has control of the match. As soon as players sense a lack of control from the ref, they’ll take matters into their own hands, and that’s when the cards come out.
After handing out just one caution to Chicago’s Razvan Cocis at the end of the first half, Bazakos distributed seven in the second half, including a second yellow and subsequent red for Montreal’s Laurent Ciman. Ciman deserved the ejection after elbowing Fire forward David Accam in the face, but I think things got out of hand between players in the second half because of Bazako’s inconsistencies.
We could talk all day about how inconsistent and frustrating referees are in MLS. No, seriously, a book needs to be written about the continued tradition of piss-poor officiating in this league. I realize refs are generally disliked everywhere, but even MLS coaches have stated publicly this season that refs in this league are just the worst. (The league wasn’t so happy about that) That being said, Chicago has no right to blame refs for anything this year, including Wednesday’s loss.
Chicago wasn’t without its share of scoring opportunities Wednesday. Halfway through the first period, Brazilian forward and designated player Gilberto found himself one-on-one with Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush after a bad giveaway from Montreal, but Gilberto’s shot attempt was blocked by a diving Bush.
David Accam, the lone goal-scorer for Chicago, worked his way into a high-percentage scoring chance after skillfully dribbling his way past several defenders and ‘keeper Evan Bush, but sent his shot sailing over the bar in the 73rd minute.
Earlier in the match, the Ghanaian positioned himself well in a pinball-type play that saw Accam tap in a rebounded header attempt from Gilberto that deflected off the far post.
The Fire had plenty of chances to add to that, but instead, the opposing interim coach Mauro Biello was busy subbing in the game-winning goal-scorer. Substitutes Andres Romero and Patrice Bernier combined for the game-winning goal in the second half, guaranteeing Montreal three points and a firm standing in the current eastern playoff picture.
The reality of missing the playoffs has been simmering in the minds of Fire supporters for quite some time now, but Wednesday’s loss makes it official. Whether this club goes on to pick up all 12 remaining points available (not likely), or doesn’t taste victory the rest of the way, Chicago will once again head into the offseason essentially starting from scratch.
Going into next season, I’d say David Accam is a guy you can build around if he learns how to finish. Aside form him (and Harry Shipp, because Fire fans would freak the hell out) I’d say it’s time to have a fire sale.
Chicago concludes its Canadian tour next week on the road in Toronto, as the Fire take on TFC for the second and final time this year. Kickoff is set for 1:00 PM, Saturday, September 26, at BMO Field. (CSN Chicago)