Chicago Fire: It’s now or never

Jul 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Fire defender Rafael Czichos (5) celebrates with goalkeeper Chris Brady (34) after their win against the Nashville SC at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Fire defender Rafael Czichos (5) celebrates with goalkeeper Chris Brady (34) after their win against the Nashville SC at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports /

Modern Spongebob catches a lot of criticism. Some of it is fair. The animation is very hectic, the storylines are too wild, and the jokes aren’t as clever as they used to be.


Then again, it’s not nearly as bad as some people say it is. Every once in a while a newer episode of the series will produce a moment of magic.

In one scene, Spongebob mentions how Mr. Krabs often says the phrase, “It’s now or never!” Patrick asks when Krabs usually says that, and Spongebob explains that he says it whenever he’s about to use the men’s room.

That joke in itself isn’t the funny part, although it is designed to get a chuckle out of viewers. What that line mainly does is set up a future gag.

For context, Spongebob and Patrick have fallen off a cliff. On the ground below, an unnamed fish is about to walk into an outhouse. Before he does, he says aloud to himself, “It’s now or never!” Spongebob and Patrick then crash through the outhouse from the sky above.

The bit isn’t even over, as the fish has to explain what had happened later on, so he has a flashback to when he said “it’s now or never!” before the two main characters landed on him.

It’s not the most clever joke, and I’m not even sure it’s really a joke at all, but man it’s funny.

So, you may now be asking yourself while reading this article, what the hell does this have to do with the Chicago Fire? Well, they find themselves in a similar situation to that earlier fish.

It’s now or never for them as well.

Setting the table

Chicago deserves credit for putting themselves in a decent position.

Going into their recent road trip, it seemed like the franchise was on the verge of collapse. They weren’t picking up results, players were struggling, and they had been knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup in brutal fashion.

Fortunately for the Fire the international break gave everyone some needed time off. That proved to be crucial, as the team won two huge away games following their return to action, at the Portland Timbers and at Sporting Kansas City. The trip ended with a loss against Orlando City, but that didn’t matter too much.

The earlier victories not only shot Chicago up the standings, but it also gave them a renewed lease on life. There was a different energy, and the fanbase was feeling optimistic again.

The timing was key as well. The Fire now had a homestand on their hands, with three games at Soldier Field in the span of a week. The final two were especially vital since they were up against direct playoff rivals in the Eastern Conference.

First, though, was a matchup with the incredibly impressive Nashville SC. This was the big challenge considering the opposition’s place in the standings. However, Chicago were handed a major boost due to the fact that mainstay centerback Walker Zimmerman was suspended, while superstar attacker Hany Mukhtar was rested on the bench.

The Fire made the most of their fortune, scrapping a 1-0 win thanks to another goal from Fabian Herbers, who made it three goals from his last four outings. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be. The team did what they had to in order to seal the win.

That result plus results from elsewhere meant that Chicago were smack in the midst of the playoff race. They ended the night tied for the 9th and final spot in the postseason, only missing out thanks to the tiebreaker of most wins.

One down, two to go.

This all brings us to today, a random Monday in the middle of summer.

Canada calling

Come on down CF Montréal, you’re the next contestant on the Fire’s quest for redemption.

Chicago hosts Montréal on Wednesday, and that game’s a dangerous one.

First off, it’s a midweek matchup, and there always seems to be something odd in the air when a game takes place on a weekday. That’s especially true in MLS, which is an already weird league as is.

Then there’s the fact that two very inconsistent teams will be battling it out on the night.

Many expected Montréal to be awful this season after they lost several key players and their coach in the offseason, and those predictions seemed to be spot on to start as they only won one out of their opening seven.

They then went on a run, though, which shot them back up the standings. It looked like they had fixed things. That was a false dawn, however, as the Canadian outfit went back to struggling. Since then they’ve been incredibly hot-and-cold, and they go into this contest winless in their last three.

Chicago isn’t as streaky, but their individual results are just as unpredictable. As mentioned earlier, they randomly beat the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City on the road despite being historically bad on their travels. On the other hand, they have such a hard time holding on to a lead, especially at home.

You throw those teams togethers on a Wednesday night, and chaos will almost certainly follow.

If/when the Fire survives that contest, they’ll host fellow Canadian side Toronto FC. They’ve been quite consistent this year, the only issue is they’ve been consistently awful.

Toronto is the 3rd-worst team in the entire league, which is absolutely remarkable considering the fact that they have two absolute superstars in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi. They haven’t won any of their last eight, and they’ve lost their last five in a row.

That should be a good thing for Chicago, right? Yes, yes it is. However, there’s still a potential danger that comes with that.

Remember how I said that MLS is a funny league sometimes? Well, what would be funnier than Toronto actually figuring things out for a game and playing at their absolute best against the Fire? It’d likely be enough for them to secure the victory, and it’d absolutely stun the Chicago players, staff and fanbase.

Then again, there’s a much bigger chance that they completely stink the bed like they always do. The roster isn’t built right, and nothing’s improved even after head coach Bob Bradley was fired.

So, this all means that the Fire has two very winnable games in front of them. That’s good, because they could really use the two wins.


It’s a perfect storm.

Chicago are on the verge of bursting into the playoff picture, they’ve got two home games against direct rivals, and they’ve got two games against teams they can absolutely beat.

Six points out of six would put the Fire right in the thick of the postseason. The timing of that move is the most important thing, as it’d happen before the Leagues Cup break, and there wouldn’t be much time left in the campaign to slip back down.

However, that same timing means that dropping any points could be devastating. A hypothetical Montréal win would put a gap between the two sides once again, and even though it wouldn’t be a huge gap, the mental impact could really kill the momentum Chicago had built up. Failing to beat Toronto, meanwhile, would just give a boost to everyone else in the East.

At that point, the Fire could be on the verge of running out of time to save themselves. They would have must-win games down the stretch, and everyone knows how poorly the team does in those sorts of matches.

So, long story short, it’s now or never for Chicago.