Viewed as a competitive contest of professional football, the Fire's latest capitulation - today's 4-0 atomic wedgie at the hands of DC United - was just another data point along a familiar trend-line. That curve continues its gentle decline, marking with mathematical indifference the falling fortunes of a once-proud club: Winless on the road, its defense among the least of an Eastern conference absolutely stuffed with terrible defenses, the Fire were today confirmed as MLS' worst team in 2015.
In some countries - and in some corners of this one - the 'winners' of this 'honor' are given a wooden spoon as a mocking trophy. So let's take a moment to soak it in: For the second time in their history, the Men in Red are MLS Wooden Spoon champions.
Our side bore the fingerprints of interim coach Brian Bliss' detail-oriented approach. Despite the horrible final scoreline, DC had some difficulty breaking down a Fire side determined to improve upon their season-long difficulties in defense. Chicago's consistent spacing and narrow approach as United drew close to goal frustrated the hosts' attempts to convert possession to quality chances. With the ball, the Men in Red were more patient than usual, playing out of the back despite DC's intermittent forward press. Having hog-tied United's possession offense, the Fire had to scuffle to find a way to give up the crucial first goal - but if this team has shown us anything in 37 competitive matches, it's that they find a way; sadly, handing Bliss the clipboard hasn't changed this tendency.
Today's wayfinding came in the 39th minute. Former Fire man Chris Rolfe nipped into midfield to claim the ball, shepherded by Fire centerback Daneil Cyrus, only to lose it to the recovering Razvan Cocis. Cocis attempted to poke the ball back to Jon Busch in the Chicago goal, but Chris Pontius had other ideas.
Pontius was once the enfant terrible of DC United, a bright, pacy wing forward with a huge future - but injuries have rendered the former terror more a terrier lately. At least, it did until the 39th minute: Cocis' weak backpass caught Pontius already near top speed and the Fire defenders flat-footed on the turn. Sometime between Cocis' final touch and Pontius' first, whatever mental or physical burdens have slowed Pontius vanished entirely, as he simply bulleted between Jeff Larentowicz and Joevin Jones to win the ball. A couple of messy touches later, he was past Busch and finishing from a difficult angle for a lead DC wouldn't relinquish.
The Fire did have a decent chance to even the game up at the end of the first half. David Accam's crisp corner found Gilberto just behind the penalty spot; the Brazilian's difficult volley was well-struck but just wide. And the game, effectively, was over. Chicago could muster little to trouble DC's impressive defensive block. The hosts added goals in the 67th (Bobby Boswell, heading a corner), 71st (Fabian Espindola), and 80th (Alvaro Saborio) to pad their stats and generally underline the need for the Fire to undertake a complete defensive makeover in the offseason.
Now, viewed as a scouting opportunity, this game was interesting ... but that's a story for another day.
Chicago (8-19-6) crawl across the finish line of this miserable, execrable season next Saturday at home against Supporters Shield front-runners New York Red Bull. DC United (15-12-6) tries to sew up a first-round playoff bye when they play Columbus on the road the same day.