Normally I use this blog to review and bring up talking points from the weekend’s match. But this week I want to discuss the state of the team over the last couple of weeks. If you haven’t been following along, the last past month has been one to forget for the Chicago Fire. The team hasn’t scored in open play for 480 minutes, a span of 5 matches across two tournaments. In that time they’ve also had two players pick up red cards, been dumped out of the historic US Open Cup, and been thrashed by Minnesota 3-0 just this past weekend. Some really terrible stuff going on, and the glaring weaknesses in this team are coming to the forefront. We’re seeing that there has been a real misstep from the technical staff to build a winning team right from the start. Now that’s not to say that there won’t be improvements done in the summer window, but the fact that Heitz and co. didn’t make all the proper acquisitions and roster moves in the off-season is clear to see. Even a casual viewer is able to notice that there is absolutely no productivity in wide areas and that there is a lack of finishing quality. Every week I’m left completely baffled by Gaston Gimenez’s spot in the team and his DP status. The midfield has been largely none existent over the last five games. And we can’t even rest on our defense anymore which capitulated in a 3-0 demolition and which shipped multiple goals to far inferior opposition. We got so excited after a handful of exceptional defensive performances. And while there is no reason to stop being excited about that aspect, those games show you more about the success of the coaching than they do about the quality of the team. Ezra Hendrickson is doing quite a job with the roster that he has. And even though I think the lineup he put out against Omaha was a massive mistake, there’s no denying his philosophy and structure are saving the team from complete embarrassment at times. There’s not a lot he can really do about players refusing to create and be brave on the field. Sure he can say some motivational speeches and try to hype them up in some way, but that creativity and knack to try something needs to come from the players themselves.
The most lackluster players have most definitely been Gaston Gimenez, Stanislav Ivanov, and Kacper Przybylko. And those are three absolutely crucial positions on the field. Gimenez is as inconsistent as you can get. It’s not even game to game, it’s one 15-minute period to the next for him. You rarely see a player that can flip from opposite ends of his ability spectrum so quickly as Gimenez. It’s a major concern and one that you cannot waste a DP spot on. Stanislav Ivanov can’t seem to do a single thing right. Just when you think he’s about to have an opportunity or transition a move into a dangerous play, some sort of disconnect occurs. He’s too easy for defenders to read, and it seems like he hasn’t figured out the league. I didn’t mind his first couple of appearances this season, but especially over these last five games, he has been so so poor. With both Herbers and Shaqiri out the Fire needed Ivanov to be the creative spark, but he has provided quite literally nothing in his last few outings. Absolutely no service going to Kacper Przybylko as well. And while that is a huge problem for Przybylko, I do think that he has been wasteful since coming to the Fire. Far more wasteful than he ever was at Philadelphia Union. This is a guy that we all expected would snap right in and be able to continue his goal-scoring prowess at the Fire. And why not? He played in the league with Philadelphia for three years so he knows MLS and what it takes to score here. And he’s the current holder of the CONCACAF Champions League Golden Boot. Why wouldn’t he be a player that’s regularly scoring? But that hasn’t really been the case in the opening phase of this season. He needs more service, yes, but as a top striker, he needs to understand that because of that inadequacy, every chance he does get is that much more important. I don’t know, maybe that’s asking too much of him. But that’s the type of striker many Fire fans assumed they were getting.
Unfortunately for those of us trying to discern exactly what the problem is, soccer is far more complex than simply boiling it all down to three underperforming players. There are others that are underperforming as well. This next part might be a little hard on some players. But it has to be said that the likes of Mauricio Pineda, Federico Navarro, Jonathan Bornstein (although he hasn’t been playing in his natural position), and Jhon Duran, Andre Reynolds, Jhon Espinoza (when they come on), as well as a couple of these Fire II guys breaking in need to be putting in far better performances than the average/mediocre ones they’re showing us now. Also, as I mentioned earlier, that last point is a sign that the roster build has been largely unsuccessful. While there have been a lot of positives coming from the top this year, I still get the feeling that they’re inexperienced. And this inexperience is leading to them having unrealistic expectations, and maybe a lack of understanding in terms of how MLS works. It’ll be interesting to see this situation progress and to think about who could be steering the ship in the near future. Especially if Seattle Sounders win the Champions League this year and Garth Lagerwey will have won everything at Seattle and could look for a new challenge. That’s just speculation but it could be something to consider.
There is lots that needs to be improved, but it isn’t all bad as in recent years. I think this coaching staff has done a great job and can be trusted for a few years to come. They’ve managed to lay a solid foundation and there is a clear philosophy and framework behind how the team plays. A successful summer window is crucial if the Fire are to have success this year. I don’t want to be all negative, so I’ll end this on a positive note. Despite allowing three goals in the last match, I think the defense hasn’t often put a foot wrong. Even those three goals were very difficult to defend against. Minnesota plays a really fluid and finely tuned style of soccer and it’s going to be difficult for any team to play against them this year. A solid defense is a lot more important for building success than acquiring flashy offensive and midfield players. It’s too early in the season to write anything off and make definitive claims about the team as a whole. But I do think there is a slight cause for concern, and hopefully, it gets addressed sooner rather than later.