The international break was supposed to serve as a mental and physical break. For the Fire, it’s been anything but after crashing out of the U.S. Open Cup against USL-side Saint Louis FC.
The Fire fielded a nearly full-strength lineup with Bastian Schweinsteiger being the only notable absence. Despite fielding the likes of Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, and Nico Gaitán, Chicago managed to feebly lose 2-1. To make matters worse, Djordje Mihailovic got into a bit of a verbal altercation with a fan postgame.
In response to another defeat, Veljko Paunovic said, “We are very disappointed. We let ourselves down today. We said that it wasn’t going to be easy. There are no excuses for the performance even though we wanted it and we created a lot of opportunities. But, at the end of the day, so far this year has been pretty much the same.”
“So far this year has been pretty much the same.”
If anyone needed to sum up the Chicago Fire’s season up to this point, that’s the phrase to use. Since last season, every loss or points dropped could be explained by pointing out the same errors and this season is no different.
The break meant that the Fire would be able to recharge after a disappointing road trip culminating in a loss to Atlanta United. They could come back from the break with a clean slate so to speak. Losing the way they did against Saint Louis FC has thrown that refresh out the window.
The team was already flustered and frustrated after the game in Atlanta. Dax McCarty spoke after that game and said that the team needed to look in the mirror and if any of the players did not want to be there then they needed to have an honest conversations with themselves.
The Fire have not won a game since early May when they beat Minnesota United. Coincidentally, that win marked the first time the team won consecutive games in a long while. A winning streak was something that Paunovic stressed would catapult the team into finding its rhythm. Since then, it’s been anything but smooth sailing with changes made to try to get the team back on track -including switching goalkeepers- and nothing seems to work.
Where do the Fire go from here?
The fortunate thing about hitting rock bottom, or close to it, is that there is nowhere to go but up. As disappointing as the cup elimination is, the Fire need to turn the page and get ready for the return of league play. Despite Paunovic saying that they have some to fix things, time is running out. The league is nearly at its halfway point and the team currently sits out of playoff contention.
The pressure is on now. Not just for the players and management but perhaps the organization as a whole. Coming into the season, high expectations were placed on this team. On paper, key areas appeared to have been addressed. However, as the season has proved, there were areas that were not improved and the team have paid the price.
With seven out of the twelve teams making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, if the Fire fail to be amongst one of those seven and potentially move back into the city of Chicago, changes will need to be made.