The Chicago Fire are inevitable

Sep 2, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas (center) yells from the sidelines against D.C. United during the second half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 2, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas (center) yells from the sidelines against D.C. United during the second half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

There was once an old man walking home from work, and he’s walking in the snow, and he stumbles upon a snake frozen in the ice.

He took that snake, he brought it home, and he took care of it. He thawed it out, and he nursed it back to health.

As soon as that snake was well enough, it bit that old man. And as that old man laid there dying, he asked the snake, “Why? I took care of you. I loved you. I saved your life.”

That snake looked that man right in the eye and said, “You stupid old man. I’m a snake.”

That short story is sometimes repeated in different ways with different characters, but the final message remains the same.

People, places, and things usually don’t change. Once they develop and find their identity, they’ll stick to it, no matter how much they shouldn’t. When someone shows you how they are, believe them.

Well, the Chicago Fire have shown us who they are once again.

False dawn

Things had been going so well.

Coming back from an international break in late June, Chicago were desperate to save their season. They had really struggled, and they were slipping out of the playoff picture.

Then, out of nowhere, a miracle happened. The Fire won consecutive road games, beating both the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City. They lost their next match, but they still rode that momentum into a dream homestand, winning three out of three.

15 points out of 18. Nine goals scored, and only four conceded. It was a remarkable turnaround, and it launched them comfortably into the postseason positions.

Offensively there wasn’t a massive improvement, save for an early explosion versus CF Montréal. It was on the other side of the ball where they really improved. They secured four clean sheets in this time, not giving up a single goal during any of their home games. They were compact, they were organized, and they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot. Chris Brady was also making some superb saves.

Everyone was just so happy. The fact that this success was happening under club legend and fan-favorite Frank Klopas made it so much sweeter. It was a feeling that hadn’t surrounded Chicago in quite some time.

Unfortunately they had to take a break from MLS play to compete in the Leagues Cup. The good times kept rolling in this competition, though, as the Fire won away to Minnesota United before topping the group following a result against Liga MX side Puebla.

That set up a dream matchup against Mexican powerhouse Club América. Chicago put up a good fight, and on another day they very well could have pulled off the victory. It was a strong showing despite the loss, and the silver lining was that the team had some extra time to prepare for their MLS return.

With this time and their wonderful form in mind, the stage was set for them to go on a late-season surge, securing a playoff spot in the process.

Surely nothing could go wrong.


Back to normal

Wrong. So, so very wrong. Ultra wrong. Super mega wrong.

Putting it that way might be a little toxic, but it’s hard to understate just how badly things have gone since then.

The Fire’s return was at home, which should’ve helped them stay on the right track. They nearly did, taking the lead early on in the second half. However, Chicago conceded three minutes later. Then they conceded again four minutes after that.

No worries, there was still plenty of time to respond. Instead, they gave up a third goal with about 20 minutes to go to seal their fate.

Next was a trip to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy. The early stages looked promising once again, with the Fire creating some chaos in the opposing final third. Then Gastón Giménez was shown a second yellow in the 27th minute. If that wasn’t bad enough, the team then gave up a goal practically seconds later.

The contest was technically close for a while, although Chicago didn’t really put up much of a fight. Riqui Puig’s goal midway through the second half ultimately wrapped up proceedings.

As disappointing as those losses were for the Fire, it was far from game over. Orlando is a tough opponent, and they had to play in LA down a man for most of proceedings.

The good news is Chicago was coming back home, and they were set to host another inconsistent side in the Vancouver Whitecaps. It wasn’t quite a must-win game, but it was a game that they kind of needed to win, if only to prevent a panic attack.

Final score: Chicago Fire 0-1 Vancouver Whitecaps.


Vancouver scored early, and they really could’ve gone into the break up by three or more. Ryan Gauld had several quality chances, but he kept failing to convert. That should have given the Fire a chance to respond and get back into the contest.

They never did. Sure, they were a bit better following the break, but it was still a far cry from the performance they needed to put out on that sort of night.

Chicago’s stretch ended with a trip to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United. That match gave them a chance to save themselves. It was a six-pointer, and going on the road and picking up a big win would have restored a lot of the positive feelings at the club.

The Fire simply never showed up.

That saying is used a lot, but it genuinely didn’t look like the team was playing in that game. The players were out there, and they were on the field, but it didn’t seem like they were even trying, save for Brian Gutiérrez and Chris Brady.

D.C. scored in the 9th minute, and then they scored again in the 20th minute. In all honesty the game was already over at that point. The day was officially done before the half when Carlos Terán managed to commit a penalty while kicking the ball off himself and into the back of the net at the same time. Christian Benteke added a fourth in stoppage just because he could.

And that was that.

The Fire had lost four on the bounce, which were all of the games they had between the Leagues Cup and the international break. They had fallen out of the playoff picture. Supporters had gone from hopeful to broken once again. It was back to rock bottom.

“You stupid old man. I’m a snake.”

Old habits

Chicago reverted to their old tendencies during this run, namely at the back.

Before the Leagues Cup, the defense was playing shutdown soccer. They weren’t quite elite, but they had just secured a clean sheet in three straight games. The biggest thing is they were playing smart, not making any dumb or careless mistakes. See the ball, kick the ball far away.

After the Leagues Cup, though, they were back to being dumb and careless again.

Against Orlando, Gastón Giménez tracked back to support the defense, and then fell asleep at the backpost, which led to an easy header for the opposition. Then Miguel Navarro went for an unnecessary tackle on the very edge of the penalty area, and that led to a penalty that finished the game.

Giménez was involved again versus Los Angeles, getting sent off before the half hour mark. The second and matchsealing goal came when the entire backline zoned out, leaving Riqui Puig wide open. Jonathan Dean gave up a penalty at the death as well.

Then, in the Vancouver game, the defense was burned time and time again. This one was on the gameplan, to be fair, as head coach Frank Klopas opted for a back three, and he had to make a change at half. However, the players that were out there never adapted, and they absolutely should’ve conceded more than the one they did.

They hit rock bottom versus D.C. United. As mentioned earlier, the Fire didn’t even really try. On the opening goal they left a centerback completely isolated with Benteke on the counter, and it was too easy for the former Premier League hitman. The figurative icing on the cake came when Carlos Terán brought down an opposing player in the area, which would’ve been given as a penalty. However, the referee didn’t need to point to the spot since Terán managed to score an own-goal at the same time, kicking the ball off himself and into the back of the net.

That’s simply too many miscues in the space of four games. If Chicago had an electrifying offense, maybe those could be covered up. They don’t, though, so they aren’t.

Speaking of the attack, the Fire’s frontline still hasn’t really developed into anything. The likes of Kei Kamara, Georgios Koutsias, and even Kacper Przybyłko all have their moments, but none of them are the top-tier striker the club needs. Xherdan Shaqiri, meanwhile, is kind of just a good player. He still hasn’t hit the heights some were expecting. Brian Gutiérrez has been excellent at times, but he still needs to grow, and he’s not been able to do that in his preferred position.

At least Chris Brady is always fantastic.

Dread it, run from it

Fans should not be surprised at this point. This is what Chicago does.

The Fire love going on a run in the summer, and then they love falling off the pace as we get into the fall season. The reason for that? The games start to matter more.

It’s when the games matter when Chicago steps to the side and lets everyone else go ahead of them. We saw an example of this already this campaign, as they were beaten down at home against the Houston Dynamo in a vital U.S. Open Cup match.

The players can change, the coaching staff can change, hell even the stadium and the logo and the color scheme can change. The Fire will be the same.

It’s happened so many times that it’s become a part of their DNA. There’s no longer a culture of winning, so no one knows how to win when they have to. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, and they’ve only made it there twice in the 13 seasons since.

Trying again

So now what?

Well, fortunately for Chicago, they still have an opportunity to save their blushes. Somehow.

They’re only two points off the 9th and final playoff spot, and they have a game in hand over D.C. Every match left this season will be against Eastern Conference opposition, so a run here could vault the Fire back up the standings.

Their first game back is against 8th place CF Montréal, and a win for the former Men In Red would lead to the sides being tied on points.

It won’t be easy, of course. Three out of their next four are on the road. Two of their remaining home matches are against the 2nd place New England Revolution and the Lionel Messi led Inter Miami.

Then again, Chicago has nothing to complain about. They’ve put themselves in this situation. They are why they are behind the eight ball. They made their bed, now it’s time to lie in it.

If history is any indication, their slide will continue. The pressure is only going to increase, and that pressure is usually what destroys the team. However, that doesn’t have to be the case.

The Fire can just be better.

They’ve shown they can win games with excellent play on both sides of the ball. None of these players have even been around too long, so the history of the club shouldn’t weigh them down. They very well could step up to the occasion and deliver a late season turnaround that puts them in a playoff spot.

Only time will tell whether or not that does happen.

If it doesn’t, just remember the story of the old man and the snake.