I was in my 20's when I first summoned the guts to sit in a casino poker room and play a few hands against - in my mind - the big boys. A poker room can be a pretty intimidating place if you're new; the game play moves fast, there is certain etiquette to follow, and everyone seems to know each other already. My first time out did not go so well. I played moderate hands and lost; when I did get big hands (such as pocket kings) I played them wrong and found ways to lose after the flop. I went up and down with my chip stack but by the end of the night I had lost most of my rack.
The next day I was very nervous to go back to the poker room. My confidence was shaken. But I grabbed a chair with many of the same players from the day before. The first hand I got was a queen and king, suited. I paid the blind to stay in and watched a queen, jack and 7 come up rainbow (varying suits). One of the players bet and I stayed along with each raise. He was betting low and I was convinced he was trying to push me off my hand. Low cards on the turn and river had me convinced I was winning especially when the board paired 7’s. When we got to the end of the hand I realized I had been had all along. The opponent had pocket jacks since the beginning of the hand and won with a full house.
I was devastated. I wanted to get up and walk away. To me the results of the day before were going to happen all over again and I was going to lose my stack for a second straight day. I tightened up. I wouldn't play big hands. I was convinced it was going to be exactly the same.
After the 2013 Chicago Fire season, fans are understandably a little shell-shocked from the mediocre results. We remember how the season began with loss piled upon loss. We remember it taking four matches before the Fire were even able to score their first goal. We remember getting crushed by Chivas at home and sending fans away from Toyota Park with arms up in the air.
After the first match of the 2014 season, the fan base and media have immediately started to compare our start to last year. Chivas is a team the Fire need to beat to stay competitive in the Eastern conference, they say. The Fire looked disorganized like last season. Yallop made a questionable substitution with Pause. Are players like Anangonó able to handle this formation? How is this any different than the Fire under Frank Klopas?
All these topics are valid points of discussion, and true to a large extent. The first match of the season was discouraging. Despite these discouraging results, I believe it is too early to dismay. The issues we saw in game one raise questions, but I would argue that this start was not as bad as the start of last season at all.
Yes the play was sloppy, passing was bad and possession was inexcusable - but the Fire did perform a bit better than the beginning of last season. After falling behind two goals, the Fire did not cave in. They brought young blood and high energy players into the match and fought back to a tie in a matter of minutes. Even after Soumare blew his marking assignment, making corner kicka gimme, it was not as bad as last season. Last season the Fire stared with a 4-0 loss to LA, a game in which the Fire were completely overmatched. In fact, in 2013 the Fire didn't even see their first goal until the fourth match of the season in a 1-4 loss at home to (you guessed it) Chivas.
Obviously results matter more than goals. The 2013 season saw our first result in the third match of the season, an away trip to Kansas City where the Fire eked out a 0-0 draw for a point. It remains to be seen whether the Fire will earn points against a tough Portland side on the road this week or against the reigning Shield winner at home the week after. I, for one, am hopeful.
Frank Yallop watched the same game that we as fans did. I have confidence that he is the type of Head Coach who knows how to make adjustments. I challenged his third substitution in the first match - Logan Pause for Rolfe - as playing for a draw as much as the next fan. However, I felt Yallop’s first two substitutions, Benji Joya and Quincy Amarikwa, were spot on. They were made at the right time and generated two quick goals when they were desperately needed. I believe Yallop has the savvy to get these guys on the pitch for more minutes and when they are going to be most useful to the club. Those goals were encouraging for the club moving forward.
The Fire will also have Mike Magee and Harry Shipp to throw into the attacking mix in the next couple of matches. We did not have a Magee level of player to add into the player rotation in the early part of 2013. In addition if the defense continues to falter, the Fire now have legitimate backups at each position to attempt to stabilize the back line. If Soumare cannot handle the middle, we can try Patrick Ianni. This is not the same tired side from 2013.
The Fire have options to go to go to if the first team fails. With young players like Shipp, Joya, Giuseppe Gentile and Marco Franco nipping at the heels of the starting squad, there is more pressure to succeed than in recent past, and we could see some much needed squad rotation soon. This is no time to dismay.
Were the results from opening day discouraging? Did the game play on the pitch see like the same story as last season? Absolutely. However, I am not ready to throw myself from the bridge just yet. There is still plenty of time for the Fire to gain cohesion and find the right combination for success.
Ultimately, in my poker play I shook off my beat in the poker room and just focused on the fundamentals. I looked at what I was doing wrong, mainly not betting enough to really test how strong my opponents hand was and was slow playing a marginal hand, and I ultimately fought back and won back most of the money I had lost the day before. If I had let myself remain distraught over the results of the first hand, I would have continued to fail the rest of the day.
Under Frank Yallop's leadership, the Chicago Fire must take the same approach. They must look at what went wrong with the backline, what went wrong with the shoddy passing, and what was the issue with the poor use of the high-pressure system touted in the off season. Once it is clear where the issues are, steps can be made to fix them. With the depth of the 2014 roster, I think there is enough potential to fill enough holes until the club can be bolstered by acquisitions in the summer window. We as fans should remain positive, and not let one bad result bring us down. There were some good aspects of the match such as the energy and contributions of Joya and Amarikwa that need to be built on moving forward. The results were disappointing but this season does not have to be a repeat of 2013.