Chicago Fire: Houston Dynamo win the late-season spark?

BRIDGEVIEW, ILLINOIS - JULY 03: C.J. Sapong #9 of the Chicago Fire celebrates after a goal in the game against the Atlanta United FC at SeatGeek Stadium on July 03, 2019 in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
BRIDGEVIEW, ILLINOIS - JULY 03: C.J. Sapong #9 of the Chicago Fire celebrates after a goal in the game against the Atlanta United FC at SeatGeek Stadium on July 03, 2019 in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Fire picked up their first road win of the season in Houston last weekend, but was it the start of a late run or just a fluke victory?

For the first time in a long time, Chicago Fire fans had something to celebrate. On Saturday night, the Men In Red picked up their first away win of the season, beating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Texas. A Nemanja Nikolic volley a Nicolas Gaitan cross just before half-time was enough to hand Chicago the three points they desperately needed.

Now, the Fire fanbase are left waiting to see how this performance will affect the team. Could this be the beginning of a late-season surge, or is it just another false dawn in Chicago?

With the sheer amount of talent on the roster, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Chicago Fire could put together a consistent run of results. They had some dominant showings early on, defeating the Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution by a wide margin, while also putting away Minnesota United, who are now second in the West, with relative ease. While the season has fallen apart in recent months, the promise is still there.

Gaitan was once the top assister in a Champions League season. Nikolic has won several Golden Boots across the planet, while Przemysław Frankowski is a proven Polish international. Djordje Mihailovic and Dax McCarty have appeared for the United States Men’s National Team in the past, and Bastian Schweinsteiger only won the bloody World Cup with Germany back in the day.

A less-heralded name that has been a big influence since recently joining the club has been Jonathan Bornstein, who has yet to concede a goal in the two games he’s played with the Fire. The former U.S international came to Chicago to help deal with the problematic backline, and he has already improved it immensely since slotting in at left-back. He brings a much-needed calmness to the back four, limiting the number of mistakes made throughout the defense.

However, despite all the talent on the roster, it is much more likely that this result is just a fluke victory that won’t mean anything in a few weeks time. Consider the opposition on Saturday night. The Dynamo have failed to realize their potential this season. They had only picked up one win in their last five home contests, losing three of those while being eliminated by Club America in the Leagues Cup during that span. They desperately need change, which is why manager Wilmer Cabrera is on the hot seat.

Speaking of managers, there is also the fact that Veljko Paunovic is still the head coach of the Chicago Fire. He has proven to be beyond incompetent during his tenure and should have been fired months ago. He only stayed in power due to the front office’s apathy. The Serbian has made so many mistakes in the past, and he’ll only make more in the future. The starting line-up he named on Saturday was the right one, for once, but it’s only a matter of time before he tinkers and changes it again.

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Then there’s the aforementioned roster, which is talented but still plagued by a number of problems. Kenneth Kronholm has often been shocking in goal, but it seems he’ll be the Fire’s number one for the rest of the season. There is still no consistent right-back option, giving the spot to someone new on a weekly basis, while the center-forwards have not quite lived up to their billing either, Nikolic has been void of confidence most of the season, while CJ Sapong has cooled down after his hot start. These weaknesses will likely be exposed against better teams.

The 2019 Chicago Fire season has died many deaths, but it seems the club have one last chance to save a campaign that has been immensely disappointing. Expectations aren’t that high, as just a postseason berth would be enough to satisfy most fans. But the rest of their schedule does give the team a chance to prove themselves.

Their next contest is at home to the Montreal Impact, who have only won once in their last six MLS games and are slipping further and further down the Eastern Conference standings. Chicago then travel to Portland, before hosting the Philadelphia Union, two very difficult games that will quickly prove whether this team is ready for a late-season surge or not. They follow that with a road trip to face the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew before returning home to take on FC Dallas.

They then go on the road versus FC Cincinnati before hosting Toronto FC, ultimately ending the season with a final away game against Orlando City. Those final few matches offer some rest bite and opportunity, but whether the Fire will be competitive by the time those matches roll around is doubtful.

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Chicago could surge back up the Eastern standings and into the playoffs. It is not inconceivable. And this win against Houston could be the catalyst for such a charge. But for now, it is difficult to believe. This is a flash in the pan, until proven otherwise.