Chicago Fire: Is it time to start worrying of another downward spiral?

Chicago Fire (Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Chicago Fire (Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

It might be time to worry when it comes to the Chicago Fire and their future

Things seemed to be going so well for the Chicago Fire. After an offseason full of change, fans were excited to see what the future had in store. The club had a new owner and head coach, which complimented the move back to Soldier Field. Chicago made a number of notable transfers as well, with a completely new set of Designated Players ready to make an impact. Sure, the attempted rebrand was disastrous, but at least the situation on the field was much better.

The Fire started the 2020 campaign on the right foot. In the two regular-season games before the coronavirus pandemic, they were narrowly beaten on the road against the Seattle Sounders, who were reigning MLS Cup champions, before getting a point away to the New England Revolution.

Chicago then made a dream start to the MLS Is Back tournament, beating Seattle in their opening game to exact some revenge. Supporters could not be happier, as they thought the Fire had a genuine chance of making a deep run in the competition.

However, it’s all gone downhill since then. Chicago have only won one out of their last six games, were knocked out of the MLS Is Back tournament in the group stages, and might miss the playoffs once again. They’ve got two matches left to save their season, but if recent form is any indication, then Fire fans should start preparing for the worst.

The Chicago Fire have many issues to fix before having consistent success

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There’s no simple solution to fix things, as the club has a number of problems to deal with.

Their most pressing issue is at the back. Chicago have been very poor defensively this year, and only have one clean sheet to their name. Captain Francisco Calvo hasn’t been good enough, making too many mistakes while failing to lead the backline properly.

He’s not got much help, to be fair, as usual partner Johan Kappelhof is still injured while the fullback pairing of Miguel Navarro and Boris Sekulic have been inconsistent at best. At least Mauricio Pineda has been quality.

Chicago’s defensive struggles are especially exposed due to their current goalkeeping crisis. Kenneth Kronholm was dreadful during the aforementioned MLS Is Back tournament, and to make things worse, he suffered an ACL injury that rules him out for the rest of the year.

Bobby Shuttleworth then got hurt as well, so third-string keeper Connor Sparrow had to come in versus NYCFC, and quickly showed why he is a third-string goalkeeper. Shuttleworth is back and looked good against FC Cincinnati, but it’s still unclear if he’s the man for the future.

The Fire aren’t getting enough from their new DP’s either. Robert Beric started strong but already seems to be out of form, failing to find the back of the net in his last six games. He does help in possession, of course, but the club brought him in to score goals, and he’s not done enough of that so far.

Gaston Gimenez, meanwhile, isn’t making enough of an impact. The Argentine midfielder has shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s not been as consistent as Chicago would like. He has disappeared in certain games, which shouldn’t be the case with a player of his standards.

Ignacio Aliseda has been the best of the bunch despite the fact that he didn’t feature at all early on. After struggling to adapt to life in the US, he was kept on the bench for the start of the season. He’s made the most of his chances in the team since then, but he needs to keep the good times rolling if he wants to stay in the starting lineup.

When the big names aren’t producing, then the role players need to step up. However, that’s not really happening either, as Pineda has been the only one who has done much of anything. Przemysław Frankowski looks lost on the field, torn between tracking back and going forward as a wingback. Alvaro Medran is not creating enough in the midfield, with his screamer against Cincy being his only real highlight. CJ Sapong, unfortunately, hasn’t been able to play due to various factors, and his presence has been missed in the attack.

Lastly, there’s head coach Raphael Wicky. It’s obviously too early to really judge him as a manager in MLS, but there are some reasons to be concerned. Most importantly, the Fire don’t have a specific playstyle. They try to keep possession, but that usually just leads to sideways passes and little going forward. If that doesn’t work, then Chicago starts playing too quickly, lumping aimless long balls in behind. There’s no balance and no consistency. Part of that is due to their changing formation, as the coach switches from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 quite frequently.

Wicky’s team selection must also be questioned. Fabian Herbers continues to get minutes in the midfield despite the fact that he’s a natural forward, while former USMNT international Djodje Mihailovic is kept on the bench time and time again. It’s a similar story for Brandt Bronico, who now has a diminished role in the team even though he was a vital player last season.

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All that considered, the circumstances of 2020 gives the Fire some leeway. Nothing has gone to plan for anyone, so criticizing coaches and players at this time is especially tough. That doesn’t mean Chicago can get away with it, though, as even they know things need to improve and improve quickly. If the Fire can’t make the playoffs when 10 teams out 14 in the Eastern Conference qualify, then it might be time to reassess the future once again.