New arrival Pavel Pardo went the full 90, was very active, scored a goal, and wasn't satisfied. After the match, Pardo said, "My goal was not important because we tied and we have to win. We had so many chances in the second half and didn’t finish. We have to keep working hard."
Since the disastrous early season road trip to through Seattle and Portland, Fire players and fans have been lamenting that the final scorelines posted by the team haven't matched the play on the pitch. A great save here and a fluke goal there, the argument goes, have deprived the Men in Red of two or three points in more than a few matches this season. But after two wins, six losses, and 13 ties, when is it more than just bad luck?
To be fair, Chicago has had its share of poor play and the fans know it. In the first half of the season, poor possession play and defensive lapses under the de los Cobos system were the main culprits. Klopas has since shored up the defense and analyses have in turn highlighted the weakness of the central midfield. The team has responded by bringing in Pardo and Grazzini, who both showed well against Philadelphia.
Yet the result was the same. In spite of out-passing out-shooting the Union, the Fire conceded a goal on to Philly's only shot on target and could only find the back of the net once themselves despite generating 15 total shots, six of which were on target. Once again, bad luck plays a role as Paunovic's goal for Philly came off a favorable bounce on a goal kick.
Consistently posting ties, however, puts into questions just how much luck has to do with it. Let's examine a few of the points that are often brought up as instances of "bad luck."
1) Opportunistic scoring. From Paunovic's strike on Wednesday to Carlos Ruiz's "golazo" (more of a goalkeeping error on Conway, in my opinion) when the Fire visited Philly in May, goals often come from "lucky" opportunities. This isn't a phenomenon limited to the Fire or MLS. Goals don't have to come from pretty build-up play and teams that don't take advantage of every opportunity will get burned.
2) Goalkeeping. For whatever reason, the best players that the U.S. has ever produced have been goalkeepers and keeper is arguably the strongest position across MLS. Lamenting spectacular saves is hardly meaningful when even the worst teams in the league have men between the posts who regularly give solid to excellent performances.
3) Talented individuals, under-performing team. Usually post-game player evaluations see at least decent performances from most Fire players but note that, for some reason, the results just aren't going their way. This issue epitomizes the Fire's apparent bad luck. We can't define what the problem is, we seem to play well but keep on dropping points.
What could be behind these persistent bad vibes? The first two points above provide a crucial insight: the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity (especially the "lucky" ones) and the challenge of facing top-notch goalkeeping makes finishing all the more important. The recent series of summer friendlies highlighted the huge gap between finishing skill in the MLS and in the best teams of Europe. Baggio Husidic's sitter against Man U was the most glaring recent example of this, but Oduro's 1 v 1 opportunities on Wednesday were just as bad. While he at least forced Mondragon into making a couple saves, they weren't difficult ones. If you are a striker, your job in that situation is to put the ball on target and not directly at the keeper. This isn't easy, but if you get a few quality chances, you have to finish at least one of them. It's your job.
The league's leading scorers, Donovan and Henry, have 11 goals a piece, scoring .70 and .62 goals per 90 minutes played and finishing 36.7% and 25.2% of their chances, respectively. The Fire's leaders, Oduro and Pappa, have 5 each, scoring .30 and .32 goals per 90 minutes played and finishing just 12.5% and 9.2% of their chances, respectively. While these players have positive qualities (speed for Oduro, technical ability for Pappa), the Fire seem to lack a true finisher.
When CDLC still sat on the bench for Chicago, the poor results despite individual quality were pinned on the coaching. After Klopas stepped in, such concerns have faded. However, it's now time to raise the question of coaching once again. There's no doubt that Klopas has improved Chicago's defensive play and his mid-summer additions bring a lot of promise to the midfield. Yet it takes more than a group of quality players to make a team. A good coach goes a long way in doing so.
In his post-game press conference, Klopas said, I’m very pleased with the performance of the team. I thought we had a sense of urgency right from the start. There was a commitment from the whole group and … I thought we played very well. I thought the team created opportunities and we moved the ball well. Disappointed, obviously, not to get three points at home, but I’m very pleased with the performance of the team and how we’re coming together." Being pleased with the performance and disappointed by the result is getting old. It's possible that the team simply needs a few days and a few games with its new players to make a turn for the better, but time is running out.
While I respect Klopas' history with the Fire, his commitment to the team and to its tradition, we ultimately need a coach who can turn commitment and effort into wins. Bob Bradley's release from the national team, record of success in MLS and past involvement with the Fire make him an excellent candidate, and he's far from the only good option.
Pardo's play was a bright spot in another frustrating result, but his reaction after the game was even brighter. "My goal was not important because we tied and we have to win." I, for one, am no longer so skeptical of the 36-year old midfielder. So far, he's shown not just his experience and skill but also an indomitable desire to win games.