optional soundtrack to this post*
The malaise is deep-rooted, and the cure won't be simple.
If one was looking for an explanation for the dire condition of the Chicago Fire, one could do worse than the New York Red Bulls' first goal in Sunday night's 2015 swan song. Barely eight minutes into their final competitive match of the MLS season, the Men in Red faced a corner kick for the visitors. All the usual panoply of corner-kick shenanigans were on display - the Red Bulls feinting runs back post and near post, the Fire screaming at each other about marking assignments, some odd pushing and shoving for position - and in the midst of it all, someone forgot to mark Bradley Wright-Phillips.
You remember BWP, surely? 2014 Golden Boot winner? 16 goals this year? Yeah, no one marked him. As one does, when one plays for the Fire. Eight minutes in, and the visitors led, 1-0. Red Bulls went on to win, 2-1, claiming the MLS Supporters Shield and closing out an absolute disaster of a season for Chicago.
For five years or so now, the Men in Red have been singularly prone to the inexplicable and the puzzling - passes to nowhere, marking assignments on no one. We build defenses out of used tires and chicken wire, then wonder why they just won't stop burning. We fashion offenses around one idea, then react angrily when that one idea is denied. When the 'worst MLS franchises' becomes a topic of conversation, we either leave the room or sit uncomfortably silent, unwilling to lend credence to what we know to be true: It's us. It's been us for a couple of years.
In any 90-minute match, even the most moribund XI creates some moments of hopefulness. Tonight was no exception - Gilberto's 19th-minute shot from a sweeping Patrick Doody cross was well-settled and well-struck, but Luis Robles was equal to it, and his goal in the 78th made the most of a canny Patrick Nyarko header. But the overall pattern of play was dishearteningly familiar. The visitors had an idea of how they wanted to play, compactly and neatly, and they imposed it upon the Fire, who had little answer from either an ideological or motivational standpoint. New York won because they were better, a fact both teams tacitly acknowledged.
For now, all that is left those who love the Fire is the hurting, and the vigilance, and the omnipresent pilot-light of hope. We shall live to see these days renewed, not by bullshit, but by greatness. Let us pray that the renewal starts immediately.
- Props to Brian Bliss for starting the kids - Alec Kann got his MLS debut tonight, Chris Ritter started in central defense, and Harry Shipp got the keys to the offense in the middle. Here's to hoping Ritter - who went off in the first 20 minutes after a head injury - is okay.
- Why, oh why don't the Fire play through Shipp? He started in the withdrawn striker role, but for every completed 1-2 by Shipp and a teammate there were 3 or 4 similar opportunities where teammates turned and played longer balls aimlessly. An enganche needs a million touches, guys, seriously. Play through him, let him use you for wall passes, and everything opens up.
- Still not 100% sold on Gilberto as a solution up top going into 2016. The Brazilian is tough, makes smart runs, and is a decent finisher; he's a very good player who'd be important on a very good team. Are the Fire building that kind of team for 2016? And, at $1.2 million, could they get more in that slot?
- Outside of Doody and Joevin Jones, anyone with a 'D' next to their name had better get ahold of their real-estate agent.
*Lyrics, which seem relevant at the moment:
Don't get any big ideas
They're not gonna happen
You paint yourself white
And fill up with noise
But there'll be something missing
Now that you've found it, it's gone
Now that you feel it, you don't
You've gone off the rails
So don't get any big ideas
They're not gonna happen
You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking