Chicago Fire vs New York Red Bulls: Ship of Theseus

RB Leipzig future player Caden Clark, currently of the New York Red Bulls . (Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)
RB Leipzig future player Caden Clark, currently of the New York Red Bulls . (Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images) /

It’s really hard to call a loss on the road early in the season a “devastating” one, but it’s tough not to feel demoralized by the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls. At no point throughout the game did either team feel truly in control, only fumbling around in the dark like 22 cartoon characters who can’t find their glasses. Here’s what happened.

The first half was quite possibly the most pointless 45 minutes of soccer I’ve ever seen. Early on the Chicago Fire seemed to almost refuse to take the ball out of their own end, while the New York Red Bulls seemed to almost refuse to defend their own end. The only notable moment early in the game was an apparent missed penalty call when Aaron Long brought down Robert Beric in the box in the 18th minute, but he was also in an offside position at the time so that took priority over the foul. Late in the half, the Red Bulls seemed to wake up, getting two quick opportunities within 10 minutes of the halftime whistle.

That wake-up call for the New York Red Bulls continued immediately into the second half, when Fabio played in a cross for Sean Davis in the 47th minute. Unfortunately for Davis, he fell down inside the box; but fortunately for the Red Bulls, Cristian Cásseres Jr was there to finish it from the top of the box. From there, the Red Bulls dominated the game, with another goal coming in the 64th minute when Fabio once again set up a teammate, this time with a header. Caden Clark ran onto the ball and smacked it into the back of the net. There would be one more major chance in the 78th minute for Ben White, but the cross was just a bit too far ahead of him.

These are the three things to think about after watching that match:

Everyone’s Fault

Something that’s been very noticeable from the past two games is the insistence that the failure in defending on the Chicago Fire comes from a specific player. Different people have different ideas for who that specific player is, but at some point everyone’s gotten blamed for something. Maybe at some point, no one specific player should be blamed because it truly has to be a team effort to make this many mistakes.

The current back-line of Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco Calvo, Johan Kappelhof, and Boris Sekulic has let by 7 goals in the first three games. Maybe some were the fault of a midfield giveaway, maybe one or two was due to a goalkeeping error, or maybe the entire team needs to take another look at how they’ve been playing. Because if this team doesn’t defend well, then it’ll start sacrificing the attack for more support in defense. That support won’t be enough and you’re stuck with a team who can’t attack and can’t defend.

The Seat Warmer

It’s very early to be calling for anyone to be fired right now. Chicago Fire head coach Raphael Wicky got a really tough ask last season, coming in with only half an off-season to make changes and then having to deal with soccer during a pandemic. It’s okay to continue to give him some form of leniency. At the same time, this team going into this season is pretty much the same as the one he put together for last season. So with this being his second season with the club, there’s an assumption that things should be a little better than the season before. Things are not better.

In losing to the New York Red Bulls, the Chicago Fire have firmly rooted themselves to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and possibly the bottom of MLS. Last season, Wicky barely missed out on the playoffs in his first season. If he puts the Fire into an even worse position this season, there should be questions swirling about if he’s the right guy for the job.

Cries for “#WickyOut” are a bit early, but it’s hard to say they’re not unwarranted when watching this team.

Just the Same, But Brand New

One of the oldest thought experiments in Western Philosophy comes from around 500 BCE: The Ship of Theseus. The concept is that you have this legendary ship that Athens chose to preserve, but since the planks had rotted over the years, they would be periodically replaced. And if that continued to a certain point, the entire ship would be made of this replacement wood. The question was: “Is this ship still the same legendary ship it was before or was it a brand new ship due to the fact that none of the original pieces of the ship remain?”

I think that the Chicago Fire may have the answer, as this team has cycled players in and out for so long, yet they have played to the exact same disappointing level they’ve always been at. This has not been fixed by new players, not fixed by new coaches and management, and it hasn’t been fixed by new ownership. Arguably, there’s a completely new fan base at this point. The Chicago Fire have changed everything about this team, including the logo, and nothing has actually changed out on the pitch.

Thanks to the Chicago Fire, we can finally solve this riddle: No matter how many parts you change on a losing team, it is still a losing team.