Chicago Fire vs DC United: No Steps Forward, Five Steps Back

REUNION, FLORIDA - JULY 23: Francisco Calvo #5 of Chicago Fire kneels with his arms raised before the start of the group B match against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the MLS Is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on July 23, 2020 in Reunion, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
REUNION, FLORIDA - JULY 23: Francisco Calvo #5 of Chicago Fire kneels with his arms raised before the start of the group B match against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the MLS Is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on July 23, 2020 in Reunion, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Fire have become a sort of failure factory, finding ways to make lesser teams appear better while making themselves worse. In a contest against a struggling DC United, the Fire lost 1-0. There wasn’t much to talk about, but let’s look at the match before talking about its implications.

DC United came out with a great start, picking up a dangerous freekick only minutes into the game, with Julian Gressel sending a shot just wide. The Chicago Fire quickly responded with their own dangerous freekick in the 5th minute, a cross that just barely missed Wyatt Omsberg’s head in the box. But the break in scoring would come in the 8th minute when a cross into the box found a wide open Edison Flores whose head sent it home. Well, not quite just his head, the shot bounced off of both Miguel Navarro and Bobby Shuttleworth before finally landing in the back of the net.

There were some chances throughout the rest of the game, but it was clear what was going on. Neither team looked good and neither team truly seemed dangerous outside of small moments caused simply by defensive errors. There were shots on frame, shots to the crossbar, and near misses, but none of them were of any caliber worth mentioning as it was due to a failure in marking or clearing. Despite the incompetence in defense, there was enough incompetence in the offense that the game would end with the 1-0 score it was given all the way back in the 8th minute.

Here are three things we learned from Thursday:

Playing the Kids

It’s hard to take anything good from a game like this, but the Chicago Fire did have one good thing coming out of the match. They finally played the kids. And to be perfectly honest, it was a mixed bag. Javier Casas came onto the pitch in the second half for Gaston Gimenez, but was fairly disappointing in his appearance. On the other hand, he’s getting playing time, which is incredibly important for a young homegrown player. That was the bad. The good was Brian Gutierrez.

Despite seeing a total of 33 minutes across his 6 appearances last season, Brian Gutierrez was selected to start on the left wing. This was a surprise to many, who expected Alex Monis to be the more likely choice, due to his playing time with Forward Madison while on loan in the USL. But Gutierrez proved that he deserved out on the pitch over the veterans on the squad, with two major chances in the 32nd and 37th minutes.

If the Chicago Fire aren’t going to win, they need to at least make the games meaningful for their future by letting these young players get time on the pitch. While it’s still only Gutierrez and Casas in this game, it shows promise that we may see more opportunities for homegrowns in the near future.

Money Moves

Before the game, the MLS Players’ Union released their yearly report for what each player is getting paid this season. For many across MLS, this is just an interesting statistic to look at and see how much your favorite player is making. But for the Chicago Fire (and FC Cincinnati), this was an indictment on how poorly this team has been built. I’ve already spoken before about the situation involving Designated Player slots, but actually seeing the numbers makes the play on the field even more damning.

Overall, the Chicago Fire aren’t the top spenders. But they are in the top half of spending. And who they’re spending on is concerning. While they are under-performing, Robert Beric and Gaston Gimenez’s salaries are understandable when you take their DP status into account. However, over $2 million each is a bit much for the level of production they provide. This is followed by Alvaro Medran, who was benched in the last game, making over $1 million and Francisco Calvo, the consistently inconsistent defender, making over $900k. There are other inconsistencies, like Kenneth Kronholm still making around $500k more than Bobby Shuttleworth, who has clearly taken his spot in net.

The point is that it is clear that the Chicago Fire are not unwilling to spend. The problem is that they seem to be spending on the wrong players.

Chicago, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

In what has become almost a weekly part of these Chicago Fire recaps, the only thing left to say is that there is something deeply deeply wrong with the club. Only finding a single point out of their first five games is bad enough. Only scoring 3 goals in their first five games is bad enough. But to now have been outscored 10-1 since an amazing first 15 minutes of the season is incredibly concerning and goes to prove that something is wrong.

To other normal teams, a bad start is just a bad start. There’s not too much to worry about. But in Chicago, a bad start shows a continuation of all the failure from previous seasons. It’s a team that can’t get back up no matter what they do. It is a cycle that fans are all too familiar with. Calls for Raphael Wicky and Georg Heitz to be sacked aren’t overreactions, they are simply the latest reaction in a long chain of failed attempts to bring a good men’s soccer team back to Chicago.

There has been too much failure on a grand scale for this club to really talk about small things in a match. Because of how terribly everything has been handled, from the rebrand, to supporter issues, to staff hires, to player signings, it doesn’t make sense to continue talking about the team on the pitch like it’s separate from that culture of terrible. Things need to change and while it’d be nice if everything could be fixed if a player had better positioning on defense, that’s not going to do much to solve the whole problem.

Steps have been taken to make changes, but at times it feels like those steps have been backwards.