After an impressive July that got every fan’s hopes up, the Fire have endured a calamitous August. Since going five games unbeaten (4W-1D) the team has suffered three straight losses, each one more embarrassing than the last. The playoff picture is looking rather grim, and if they fall to New England Revolution on Wednesday we can pretty much rule out a 2022 playoff berth.
The team has recently been plagued by injuries. Wyatt Omsberg is still missing, the Fire could really use his defensive contributions from the first half of the season right now. And in the 2-0 loss to Montreal, Xherdan Shaqiri and Rafael Czichos both left the field injured, the Swiss after just 30 minutes. To add insult to injury (pun fully intended) Boris Sekulic, Jhon Espinoza, Federico Navarro, Chris Mueller, Jhon Duran, and Shaqiri are all on 4 yellow cards. If any of them pick up another one, they’ll have to miss a game in this last stretch to end the season. Seven games to make something of this season and the chances of Ezra Hendrickson being able to play his best 11 every week are looking slim.
The lack of options for the coaching staff is extremely worrying as headaches are starting to pile up. Georg Heitz and Sebastian Pelzer have failed once again to provide a Fire head coach with the tools necessary to do the job. Added to the pre-match stress of needing to plug a midfield gap, Ezra’s options off the bench against Montreal severely lacked the quality needed to turn around a game against such opposition. The decision to play Torres in central midfield did end up being a positive though. Maybe the only positive from the match. Torres led the team in dribbles, tackles, and put in 9 crosses (no other Fire player did more than 2, Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic had 7). Only Jhon Duran took more shots than Torres, and the young DP was a big reason why the team dominated possession despite the loss. Could central midfield be a better fit for Jairo?
But like I said, that’s the only positive I pulled from the Montreal match. It was just as bad, if not worse than the loss to NYCFC the previous week. The loss against Philadelphia was terrible as well, although it was to be expected. It was three losses against the three best teams in the East, but you would’ve hoped the Fire could at least snag a few points. Even a 0-0 draw in each game would have put the team 3 points off a playoff spot. The Fire plays away to New England Revolution on Wednesday at 6:30 PM CT, a team that still has a sniff at the playoffs and is looking to maintain the pace with the teams right above them. After that, it’s Columbus Crew away. Ezra Hendrickson’s previous club and the team currently occupying the 7th playoff spot, 6 points ahead of the Fire with a game in hand. The next two games are a mandatory 6 points or we can kiss the playoffs goodbye. Two wins are necessary for the players to even have the belief that they can make playoffs, so if they can’t achieve that it could be a depressing end to an already tumultuous season. There’s no other way to slice it, it’s desperation time for the Fire.
The only way for the Fire is at least three wins in the next 5, which requires at least one win away. Then you’ve got to hope at least one of the other two is a draw or better. In order to do that in the next 5 games, the Fire would have to be as good as MLS league leaders LAFC have been in their last 5 games. After that you look to the last two games of the season of which the team needs to win at least one. While all of this is happening, fans have to sit and hope that results elsewhere also go the Fire’s way. So, a pretty steep mountain it seems. But the optimist in me remembers what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said before his Manchester United team looked to overturn a 2-0 loss at home to PSG in the 2018/19 Champions League, “Mountains are there to be climbed.” Hopefully, Ezra Hendrickson is able to convey this same message to his players before this tough run of games. This moment of the season is the one where the players should be feeling the most pressure, with playoffs hanging on by a thread.