Didier Drogbas Impact defeated the Chicago Fire Saturday night before a sold-out crowd at Stade Saputo. It was a fast-paced, entertaining game, with dozens of chances created, and some outstanding attacking on display. The game was a decent advertisement for MLS, especially with the capacity crowd on hand, and superstar Didier Drogba playing. And despite all the excitement and heart shown by Chicago, it was all for naught. The season may very well be over for the Fire.
Can anything positive be taken away from the game from a Fire standpoint? Mikey Stephens and Patrick Nyarko played with guts and looked good for Chicago. While it’s good that the Fire scored three goals on the road, they also gave up a hat trick to their main summer transfer target, Didier Drogba, and lost 4-3, extending their win-less road streak to 22 games, dating back to July 2014. A good team effort in the midfield was nullified by dreadful defending and the finishing ability of one superstar, a man who Chicago wanted badly to be wearing Fire red. Talk about putting salt in the wound…
This Voyage is Cursed: Fire vs. Impact
Chicago fans have gotten used to this feeling in the past few years. Many of them are probably having flashbacks to last summer’s Jermaine Jones saga, and the playoff run he helped New England achieve after the Fire lost out to the Revs in a “blind draw” for the rights to sign the US international. Then there was the CONCACAF Champions League run that former Fire player and coach Frank Klopas led Montreal through – with the help of former Fire players Justin Mapp, Dilly Duka, Bakary Soumare and Dominic Oduro.
There have been other recent wounds, with plenty of salt rubbed into them. There have been promising US Open Cup runs ending in agonizing fashion, usually with Chicago failing to score. Players like Chris Rolfe, Quincy Amarikwa, Dom Oduro, Dan Gargan, Baggio Husidic, Justin Mapp, and others seem to stagnate while playing in Bridgeview, then suddenly progress and outperform expectations when they are traded or sold (Even Victor Pineda is doing so, albeit at the NASL level). Rolfe and Soumare have gone on record mentioning the toxic atmosphere in Chicago. Injuries to star players seem to happen at the worst possible times. And through it all, there have been a string of coaches who just can’t seem to put their finger on why things are going poorly. “Eh- the ball is round”. “Just one of those nights”. “That’s football”. It’s not inspirational stuff. It’s no coincidence that Klopas’ tenure in Montreal ended just before the game against the Fire. The front office there weren’t any more thrilled about his performance than the one in Bridgeview was.
The Men in Red are sitting where they have been for the better part of three months now, in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, and vying for the Wooden Spoon of the league. It’s where they spend most summers, especially in August and September. Underperformance has become routine. Fans are speaking up, wearing black to games and voicing their frustration through walk outs and tifo displays. But there are few home games left, and who knows what will happen after the season is over, and the Fire miss the playoffs again.
Make no mistake- this team is not good enough for playoffs. The defense is weak and prone to mental lapses. Without Sean Johnson between the pipes, they could have given up 8 or 9 goals easily against l’Impact de Montreal.
But who needs the MLS Cup playoffs? Chicago’s playoff season seems to start every year in July, when they have dug themselves so deep a hole that every game is a must win. It typically lasts until mid-September, when the red line is finally out of reach. Usually the mediocre competition in MLS allows fans to squeeze every last drop of hope out of the season before the Fire are mathematically eliminated. In June and July, Chicago does just well enough in Open Cup competition to energize the fans for a late summer push –which ends in heartbreaking / disappointing / comical fashion.
So here we are again. Some things are certain: There is talent in the midfield. The Fire still need center backs and right backs. There are fantastic young players in David Accam, Harry Shipp, Joevin Jones, Michael Stephens and Matt Polster on this roster. What they do not need around them is another total rebuild. If Frank Yallop, the Director of Soccer and Head Coach, is still around next year, there may be improvement – but that is far from certain. If he is let go after this season, there may not be many fans left after another two years of rebuilding.
Main Photo by Sean King for Chicago Fire Confidential