I am writing from a tough place right now. I'm not very happy and I think it is time to channel that frustration at our beloved Chicago Fire. So needless to say, this will not be a normal recap.
Saturday was awful.
The Chicago Fire walked away from a rain-soaked Toyota Park Saturday once again dropping points to the visitors as D.C. United rallied in the second half to secure a 1-1 draw and get a point. At this point, opposing teams must be licking their lips in anticipation to play in Toyota Park. A point is almost guaranteed and three is not out of the question.
The conditions were awful Saturday, there is no doubt about that. The Fire were shorthanded, missing David Accam, Matt Polster and John Goossens. Those are facts. Those are also excuses.
The Fire had the possession edge in the first half, a pleasant surprise and a rarity. They mostly squandered it, putting only one shot on goal and attempting four in total. Luckily, the lone shot on goal found the back of the net thanks to a great free kick by Arturo Alvarez and nice finish by Jonathan Campbell, who notched his first career MLS goal.
It was a nice moment and the kind of moment one would think could inspire a team to get a win. Winning the possession battle and scoring a goal heading into halftime should provide confidence. Instead, the Fire played on their heels in the second half for the second straight home game, making the road team look like the squad desperate for points as it pushed forward.
Chicago lost the possession battle in the second half and attempted only four shots, none of which required a save from Travis Worra. The team could never muster a meaningful push, even after Patrick Nyarko tied the game 1-1 in the 64th minute. It was D.C. that kept on pushing for the win.
I know Chicago is a little light on the talent side, especially without Accam and Polster in the lineup. But Saturday's second half looked far too much like the 2015 season. It was team with no answers after adversity struck. Razvan Cocis throwing his hands down in anger after Nyarko's goal was the strongest response of the game.
One bright spot for the Fire aside from the possession edge in the first half was the play of Alvarez who had his best game since the season opener against New York City FC. Alvarez made a handful of pretty passes that could have led to scoring chances, but those passes generally ended up in the vicinity of the offensive black hole known as Gilberto.
Once again the Brazilian Designated Player was poor, missing the frame on a point blank shot courtesy of Alvarez's service, getting dispossessed too many times to count and missing the mark on his passes. I am fearing it is becoming too late to salvage any confidence Gilberto may have left. His frequent pleas to referees are not going to get him out of this terrible slump. Only a goal might be able to help and hopefully for his sake that goal comes soon.
On the other side of the ineffective attacking trio of Gilberto, Kennedy Igboananike (who did have a good first half) and Nick LaBrocca was United's battery of Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and especially Luciano Acosta, who was dangerous all game.
It was Acosta who received the short corner at the top of the box in the 64th minute and sent in a perfect curling ball to Nyarko who headed it home. The chemistry between the trio was far better than the Fire's attack.
I really wish I could write this recap with more detail, but there is little worth remembering or watching if you missed it. When your team puts one shot on target, there is not much to say. Nyarko picked the pocket of Michael Harrington for a near score, Matt Lampson made a couple good saves and the Fire's center backs were solid. That's about it. The rest was uninspired.
I'm not going to throw the new Nelson Rodriguez/Paunovic regime under the bus. I understand change can take a little bit of time. I just hope they understand this can't take "Chicago Cubs four years of awful" kind of time. It doesn't work that way in MLS. There is no "farm system" to develop nearly finished products that you can pluck out of a draft year after year.
You have to find the right talent at the right price and it can be done quickly. Look no further than the Colorado Rapids who produced another impressive result Saturday with a 2-2 draw in Montreal. The Rapids are on top of the Western Conference with 17 points and five wins, including a perfect 4-0-0 record at home! The Rapids were positively awful last year and will very likely make the playoffs this season.
Chicago is on pace to win four games this year at the current rate. Colorado already has five! Five!
I can live with losses and even missing the playoffs as dreadful as another season of no postseason seems. But it is becoming inexcusable for the Fire to perform the way they have at home. This is now two consecutive games where Chicago has looked like the road team while their opponents throw the kitchen sink at them to try and get three points. If the Fire are going to lose, lose like the season opener. Go for it. Play to win, as Paunovic promised. Don't play for a point at home. It won't be enough to get in the playoffs anyway.
Saturday was the least enjoyable game of the season. Paunovic needs to make sure this team comes out with a will to win, even at the cost of a loss, the next time out. It would be a shame to see what can still be a productive 2016 turn into the wasteful experience of 2015.