After such a promising start to the new campaign, the Chicago Fire’s positive start has quickly been forgotten following three straight defeats. The season may still be young, but it is at this early stage when Carlos de los Cobos and the rest of the Fire backroom staff need to make the changes necessary for this team to find its winning formula. It’s a long season and every team is going to drop points and suffer a dip in form now and then, but when your club is sitting in last place in the standings and yet to click into gear this season, you can be forgiven for demanding answers, and more importantly, results.
As far as answers go, the men in red need several of them. The Fire’s defense has been at sea in each of its last four games and once again we are seeing the same goalkeeping issues that struck the team at the beginning of last season. But with a squad full of capable defenders and two top ‘keepers, both at opposite ends of their careers, the Fire simply need to cut out the defensive mistakes, show their maturity and improve their communication.
The main answer the Fire are looking for lies in the need for an attacking central midfielder. In Logan Pause and Mike Videira, the Fire boast two combative midfielders with a knack for breaking up opposition attacks and winning the ball back for their side. Both are fantastic players, as they have proven throughout their careers, but unfortunately they both lack the creativity and attacking abilities the Fire desperately need in the final third of the pitch. With two defensive midfielders it is surprising to see the Fire conceding so many goals, but at the same time, it is not bewildering to see the Fire struggling to find attacking fluidity in the final third of the pitch.
Against the Galaxy last weekend, Chicago’s midfield often looked lost for ideas in attack. One can argue that Gaston Puerari and Gonzalo Segares both had glorious opportunities to put the Fire ahead, but neither of those chances came from the midfield. Diego Chaves put Puerari into space for the first big opportunity before the speedy Uruguayan turned provider for Segares’ goal scoring opportunity later in the first half. And when the Fire did finally get on the scoresheet, it was thanks to a tremendous individual effort by substitute Dominic Oduro.
Pause and Videira represent two very similar players, both of whom are more talented defensively and don’t combine to create an effective central midfield pairing. The Fire need a box-to-box midfielder who can distribute the ball well, link the midfield with the forwards, and offer additional creativity in attack. The Fire’s fortunes would dramatically improve if they found a player who could run at defenses and consistently be a big attacking threat.
As it stands, the Fire’s only attacking threat in midfield comes from the wing in the form of Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to bring the club success as you can’t expect those two to carry the bulk of the attacking burden, regardless of how talented they are.
Baggio Husidic is a viable attacking option for the Fire, but for some reason de los Cobos has chosen not to include the former UIC midfielder in any of his match squads this season. Benny Feilhaber seemed like the perfect man for the job, but the opportunity to sign Feilhaber came and went on Tuesday before he eventually landed in New England.
Videira has only scored four goals in his professional career, while Pause has managed just two since joining the Fire in 2003. And even if Nyarko, Pappa and the Fire’s Uruguayan duo are to accept the bulk of the scoring burden, Chicago still needs a player who can create chances and combine well with these players.
And until the Fire sign that creative, attacking midfielder, we may become accustomed to seeing plenty more indifferent results as the season progresses. I trust de los Cobos to work out the problems in defense. But when it comes to fixing the main issue facing this squad, will he really make the move for an attacking central midfielder? One can only hope.