Chicago Fire and Red Stars: What went wrong?

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Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire – (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

The Chicago Fire and the Chicago Red Stars had the chance to do something special.

A couple of months ago, when the #MLSisBack tournament was announced, and the NWSL Challenge Cup was set to begin shortly, I wrote an article about how the City of Chicago might see two winning teams this summer in the Chicago Fire and Red Stars.

The Chicago Fire seemed poised to surprise the rest of MLS with a team finally at full strength, and the Chicago Red Stars were ready to get their revenge and finally win their first piece of silverware. This didn’t happen, and that article has aged very poorly. But the reason that it was so wrong is compelling enough that it’s worth doing an autopsy on the summer’s soccer to find where exactly my evaluation went wrong.

First of all, let’s have a recap of what exactly the expectations were for the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Red Stars going into their respective tournaments. One of the most significant parallels for the two teams and the reason I found the story-line so interesting was that both teams were going to have to look very different from their previous season.

For the Chicago Red Stars, it was simply the absence of Sam Kerr, but that was a massive enough change that the team needed to re-evaluate their attack. This meant that opposing teams didn’t know what to expect from them.

They had acquired a few solid attackers in Kealia Watt and Rachel Hill, but this unknown aspect made the team difficult to pin down. I made the argument that this made the team more dangerous, allowing them an early advantage to take teams by surprise.

On the Chicago Fire’s side, the entire team was different. Most of the team’s biggest signings were made late into the preseason, meaning that many of the players wouldn’t be making it onto the squad until up to a month into the season.

The lack of time to gel and work together spelled disaster, but the sudden stoppage of play gave the team more time. Players had arrived in Chicago just before quarantine had begun, and the team instantly began to work together through online meetings. With a chance to mesh together, at least off the pitch, the Fire seemed to have a massive amount of talent just sitting around waiting to finally show what they can do.

The reality of this past summer was very different from the perception ahead of the tournaments.

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