The Chicago Fire have lost. They didn’t just lose the game 2-0 to the Philadelphia Union. They lost a lot of things. They lost the game, they lost the ball, they lost their cool, they lost any sort of confidence in themselves, they lost the trust of the supporters, and they even lost my attention. I spent more time bird-watching in the stadium than actually feeling interested in the professional soccer game playing in front of me. But unfortunately, I could still see the game unfold behind the birds. So let’s talk about that game.
In the first half, it felt like neither team really got a good footing. Much like the previous game, neither team really seemed like they wanted to score. There were a couple chances early on for the Philadelphia Union, with a great save from Bobby Shuttleworth in the 14th minute to stop Corey Burke followed by two quick chances for Jack McGlynn on the far post, both saved by a scrambling Boris Sekulic. The Chicago Fire had opportunities in the opposing half, but none that were anything tangible enough to be called a “chance.”
Things weren’t that different in the second half, with Philadelphia finally converting in the 51st minute from a throw-in after Francisco Calvo left his assignment on Burke to chase the ball. Burke would almost immediately finish off a pass from Jamie Monteiro. Soon after, the Chicago Fire finally got their own chance, with Beric finding a wide open shot. That shot was sent wide. In the 61st minute, Kai Wagner smacked a ball off of Jakob Glesnes’ head, who sent it to the back of the net.
Here is what we saw from this game:
What’s up with Collier?
Before getting into the bad stuff… What’s up with Elliot Collier? For those unfamiliar with the culture around the Chicago Fire, Elliot Collier is a sort of joke player that’s hard to describe. Think of someone similar to Brian Scalabrine in the NBA or John Scott in the NHL. Just a cult around a guy who people all agree isn’t good enough to be a star, but people like talking about the guy. Except in the case of Collier, fans really drive the point home that he’s not a quality player, with most analysis of the player being steeped in sarcasm.
But this season and the last, there’s been a really weird through-line: Elliot Collier has been one of the best players on the pitch. On a team where he is publicly viewed as not good enough to start, he was the most active player in the game for the Fire. He chooses to take on the man in front of him no matter the situation and he takes his chances whenever he can get them. Unfortunately, he’s still not proving to be good enough to convert on those chances in the regular season, but he is clearly playing his heart out on a team of under-performers.
You can view this situation in two drastically different ways. On one hand, you can take the win and say that it means Elliot Collier has the ability to improve. On the other, if Elliot Collier is your top-performer on a team of players you signed to be much better than his best, then you have a BIG problem.
Philly Running on Fumes
Possibly the most disappointing thing about that loss for the Chicago Fire was that the Philadelphia Union team looked absolutely tired. As pointed out in the preview, the Union have been playing mid-week games in the CONCACAF Champions’ League, with a recent win over Atlanta coming just three days before this game. With their opponents expected to be a bit on the backfoot, the Fire needed to bring the game to them and use that extra energy. They didn’t.
It’s not that Philadelphia was ready for this game, much of the first half was spent with Union players on the turf due to injuries. That sort of thing is the consequences of playing while fatigued. But for much of that first half, the Fire refused to move out of their own end. The Philadelphia Union looked so completely vulnerable for a long time in that game, but somehow Chicago refused to exploit any sort of advantage they had in the match.
There’s a lot of issues surrounding the Chicago Fire right now. I can go into each and every one of those issues or I can just go into the one thing that all of them affect: Trust. There is a healthy level of trust between the players, there is a healthy level of trust between the players and the coach, there is a healthy level of trust between the supporters and every aspect of the club. On a championship winning team, where everything is going right, that trust is there and it is a beautiful thing. But when things go wrong, that trust starts to deteriorate. It breaks down in different ways and at different speeds for each of those relationships, but you can safely call a team a perennial loser when all that trust has dissipated. Based on a lot of signs, this is where the Fire are right now.
On the pitch, the players aren’t communicating well. Due to a fan protest, the mostly empty stadium was pretty silent, so you could easily hear what was going on on the pitch. The loudest I heard a player the entire game was Boris Sekulic tearing into Elliot Collier over a defensive breakdown. At no other point did I really hear anything else from the Fire. With rumors of Francisco Calvo not being able to hold the locker room together and a clearly visibly frustrated Raphael Wicky, the leadership within the squad seems to be gone. That trust is gone. And for the fans, a player allegedly attempting to confront his own fans for booing the team off the pitch shows that the trust between those two entities are severed as well.
The Chicago Fire continue to think they’re hitting rock bottom, but consistently find ways to drill even further. Maybe this is finally it.