The first annual MLS decision day has come and gone, and for several teams throughout the league, it was a day of excitement and anticipation. Clubs on the bubble faced off around the country at the same time to help finalize this year’s playoff bracket and determine a Supporter’s Shield winner, also known as the club with the most points in the league at the end of the regular season.
For the Chicago Fire, decision day brought some interesting possibilities, despite being eliminated from the playoffs back in September. Not only could the Fire finish the season on a high note in front of its home crowd against a New York Red Bulls team that’s winless in Chicago in the last decade, but it could also play the role of spoiler to the visitors Sunday night. A win for the visiting Red Bulls meant a Supporter’s Shield victory. A loss or tie threatened New York with an empty-handed trip home.
Chicago was apparently uninspired by the carefully orchestrated drama of decision day, and fell 2-1 to New York Sunday night. Despite a late push and beautiful, side-volley goal in the second half from Gilberto, the Fire looked flat for the entire first half, and never recovered from an early 2-0 deficit. New York celebrated a title on Chicago turf, and the Fire finished a disappointing season in disappointing fashion. What a shocker.
No one’s more aware of the gloom-and-doom that permeated the 2015 Chicago Fire than interim coach Brian Bliss. The poor guy inherited a sinking ship, and doesn’t know if he’ll have a job tomorrow, but still told reporters after the match that he’s proud of his side for competing with a tough New York club.
“I don’t think we have much to be ashamed of,” said Bliss in Sunday night’s press conference.
“We battled. We fought. We got back into the game in the second half; we just couldn’t turn the tide.
“Don’t make any mistake about it. [The] Red Bulls are a good team, and that’s why they’re Supporter’s Shield winners,” said Bliss with a heavy heart.
In fairness to Bliss, the effort was there from his side Sunday, eventually. The Fire clawed its way back into the match, nearly achieving the tying goal that would have spoiled the party for New York (Dallas defeated San Jose, thus a tie or win for Chicago would have stripped NYRB of the shield). But if we’re being honest, Sunday’s result was a microcosm of the entire season. There were flashes of hope and positivity, but mostly disappointment, costly errors and ultimately a poor result at the end of the day.
Let’s highlight some of the damage racked up this year. The Fire finished 30 points out of first place in the east. In other words, the club was dead last in conference and league, missing the playoffs for the third straight season, and five out of the last six years. (Chicago was the first team disqualified from the playoffs this year by a long shot) Not only did the team lose 20 matches, a new franchise low, Chicago failed to earn a road win all season, becoming just the seventh team in league history to suffer that fate.
Chicago winger and forward David Accam wished he and his teammates could have done more for the supporters Sunday and throughout the season.
“Of course we wanted to give our fans something to cheer about, and today it didn’t happen. We didn’t play well. As usual, we were terrible in the first 30 minutes or 40 minutes, and we conceded, but the team is starting to take shape. I know there will be a lot of changes coming to the team, so hopefully next season will be much better,” Accam told reporters.
The Ghanaian footballer was also critical of his individual play throughout the season. When asked about how he’d grade his overall performance on the year, he told a group of reporters he wasn’t good enough, despite leading all scorers with ten goals.
“I don’t think I had a great season. I came in injured, really tired from the AFCON (African Cup of Nations) and a long season in Sweden, so I didn’t really have a good preseason, [and] that contribute[d] a lot to my injuries and not having a good season this year,” said Accam.
The young striker has had a grueling year, and indeed battled injury throughout. The ability to go from a fall, European football schedule, along with regular appearances for Gahanna’s national team, and then plunge straight into the MLS schedule and system is beyond me.
I appreciate his ambition to want more from himself and his teammates, but I would also add a critique of my own for the young forward. His game is currently one-dimensional. He’s crazy fast, and near impossible to deal with one-on-one in the open field, but he needs to gather himself at times and not run into the heart of a defense at 80 miles per hour.
He also needs to learn how to pass. As soon as he gets the ball, he’s often thinking about making a move for goal, and never looking up for teammates. That can be taught, and if he’s willing to add that to his game, he has potential to be a great player, and someone this team can build around moving forward.