Few things have gone the Chicago Fire’s way this season, a trend which continued Wednesday night as the Fire fell to first place D.C. United 1-0 at Toyota Park. The game showed much of what have become increasingly frustrating trends for supporters over the last five seasons; sputtering offense that creates chances without resulting in goals, and continued defensive lapses, often in the late-going. Both issues manifested themselves on Wednesday, as a second ball off a D.C. set piece in the 73rd minute fell to the feet of Conor Doyle, whose blast scorched the back of the net. That goal cemented, if only temporarily, the Fire to the bottom of both the Eastern Conference, as well as the league at 4-9-2.
Fourth Consecutive Loss Begs Tough Questions For The Chicago Fire
After a large off-season turnover to their roster that included signing three DP’s and a significant number of support players, the hope coming into the 2015 campaign was that Frank Yallop and his technical staff would begin to find the results that eluded them in large part during the 2014 season. Through 15 games, it looks more and more like the Fire are a team on the pitch that lacks identity, despite dynamic players like David Accam and Harry Shipp, and tenured international veterans like Shaun Maloney.
It’s worth noting that Chicago was without significant pieces from that roster turnover coming into the match. Maloney (bulging disc) and Accam (hamstring) were both absent with injuries. Joevin Jones, their starting left back and one of the best pickups of the offseason thusfar could only go 45 minutes due to illness. Mike Magee, 2013 MLS MVP is just now returning from a nagging hamstring after recovering from hip and knee surgery some nine months ago. The Fire were also without rookie phenom Matt Polster, who was forced to sit out due to yellow card accumulation. Diminishing that rationale however, was the fact that Ben Olsen rested regular starters Nick DeLeon, Chris Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, Perry Kitchen for the match, essentially pairing the Fire against a front six comprised largely of journeymen players for United.
While any one of those injury/absence issues would make a 1-0 loss to the current Supporters Shield leaders understandable, it’s been the culmination of poor play and failed results leading into Wednesday night that makes it just another frustrating moment in a continuously arduous season for the Fire. Despite holding the edge in possession, the Chicago attack looked lost, toothless, and lacking creativity, as it has previously this season. Kennedy Igboananike, the Fire’s third DP, created as many chances as he squandered. Harry Shipp has appeared off the last few games, although that’s been more the result of the opposition’s tactics against him than his own play. While they held D.C. to just eight shots, Chicago also only took eight shots on the night, just one of which was on frame. That shot, off the foot of former Southampton striker Guly do Prado, was hit low, poorly, and directly at D.C. United’s Bill Hamid. The rest of the Fire’s offensive output was null and void.
With a lack of results now finding the Fire at the bottom of the league, supporters and media are beginning to ask tough questions in Chicago. In the aftermath of the loss to D.C., there was a distinctly different tone in Bridgeview, not only from Frank Yallop’s reserved manner in his post-game presser, but in the locker room as well. There is a sense from some that Yallop has lost the locker room, and that if results don’t turn around soon, there could be changes on the way.
“I think that this is certainly a challenge. I feel that it is not only changing certain players in and out….It’s trying to get a team to work together and gel and really do well. I think that is the hardest thing,” Yallop told the media after Wednesday’s result. “That’s the hardest thing in sports…getting the right chemistry and the right balance. I feel like the group we have right now, and maybe adding a few pieces to it is going to be good.”
The pieces Yallop and Technical Director Brian Bliss added in the off-season gave supporters that same impression, but they have yet to show up in a tangible way for the Fire. Shaun Maloney and David Accam have been away for significant stretches already this season, both due to injury as well as international duty. Kennedy Igboananike has just two goals through 14 appearances. Victor Perez, loaned to Chicago from Spanish side Real Valladolid as a stop-gap before the club knew how Matt Polster would fare, saw the field for all of two minutes before his loan ended in June and he was sent back to his home club. A turnover at the beginning of the season that was ripe with promise is now showing itself to be more frustrating than exciting, with many looking toward Yallop, wondering if his management of the talent on the roster is going to eventually yield promising results.
“Obviously time runs out in the season and we need to start to win, and I will be under pressure if we don’t win. But I don’t give up and I keep going and in the end I usually get the group to go in the right direction.”
With a U.S. Open Cup game looming next Tuesday against giant-killers Charlotte Independence of USL, the results will need to come quickly. An early exit from USOC play, coupled with poor league play this year could speed up the clock on a coaching staff that has the talent, but continues to struggle to get the best out of the personnel on the roster.
Photo Courtesy Sean King for Chicago Fire Confidential