It’s been 21 weeks since the Major League Soccer season kicked off for the Chicago Fire all the way back on March 19th in Dallas, TX. The Fire started the season with a 1-1 draw courtesy of a debut goal from new signing Diego Chaves. Fast forward to now and who could have possibly expected that result would have been a realistic foreshadow for the entire league season?
And unfortunately I’m not talking about Chaves and his goals, I’m referring to the Fire’s inability to win and erase the memories of last year’s disappointing season under Carlos de los Cobos. Judging by the Fire’s six 1-1 draws this season, I suppose I could also be referring to the team’s favorite scoreline this season. So, with a record of 2-14-7 and a place at the cellar of the Eastern Conference, who, if anyone, could have predicted that the Fire would be in this position with just over ten matches remaining in what will most likely go down as an extremely disappointing season.
Draws have certainly been the name of the game this year, summed up by the Fire’s record breaking 14th tie of the season on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. Despite recovering from Thierry Henry’s early goal and storming back into a two goal lead, the Fire never really looked being able to hold on for three points. And when Lindpere struck a neat volley past Sean Johnson midway through the second half, there seemed to be an air of inevitability attached to the equalizer. After all, haven’t draws been the name of the game this year?
With a point earned for each side, there’s no need to debate which side will have been the happier of the two. The draw moved New York into sole position for third place while the Fire remain in last place in the East, two points ahead of Vancouver for the worst record in the MLS.
Despite only picking up a point on their travels this past weekend, the Fire actually put in an impressive performance. Sure, the common mistakes we’ve seen all season were there, such as leaving opposition attackers with too much space outside the box, failing to close down and properly mark attackers, and not being able to build on a one goal lead. Even taking into consideration these mistakes, there was plenty of reason to be happy with Chicago’s overall performance on Saturday.
Birthday boy Dominic Oduro netted a fine equalizer from a delightful cross from Patrick Nyarko, proving once again why these two players are the team’s leaders in goals and assists, respectively. In fact, the two should have combined for another goal in the first half but Oduro failed to connect with a perfect, low driven cross across the goal from his fellow countryman.
The most impressive player on the pitch for me was Nyarko. His movement off the ball was exceptional at times and his crossing was accurate as we’ve seen all season. A few other players could learn a thing or two from him about crossing. Despite all the recent criticism, Marco Pappa was also impressive on Saturday. His decision making was questionable at times, but he was always a threat to the New York backline. And what about that chip into the path of Oduro? The Ghanaian’s effort may have been saved, but new boy Sebastian Grazzini was there to clean up the rebound to give the Fire a surprising lead. His Samba dance celebration was equally impressive.
Despite having the lead and playing well, particularly in the final third, an equalizer always seemed on the cards for New York. You couldn’t help but sense a third goal was a must for the Fire if they wanted to claim all three points for just the third time this season. Sure enough, Chicago stuck to the script. As I mentioned before, this match sums up the Fire’s season. They’ve played well in plenty of draws, but yet somehow they’ve been unable to grind out the win. It’s almost as if drawing has become a bad habbit that the team has simply been unable to break. Of course, there have been seven defeats this season, but most of those were down to poor performances all across the pitch.
But how many of Chicago’s draws should have been wins? Houston, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, and even New York (twice) could easily have been wins for the Fire had they managed to either avoid simple mistakes or keep their concentration after taking the lead. It’s painful to see and it invites the question whether or not there is a ‘drawing mentality’ in this Fire team. Whatever the case may be, they need to break it. They came extremely close on Saturday and will hope to finally taste victory again on Thursday at home to D.C. United.
The question is, can that mentality be broken? And if so, will it be too late?