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Roundtable: Pride And Joy

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The Fire grab two wins in a week and climb up to 2nd in the Eastern Conference

Photo via Chicago Fire

James Bridget Gordon: So this was an eventful week! Two Fire games (and two wins!), both Chicago teams won on the road this weekend, the USOC kept rolling, and we got yelled at for talking about LGBT stuff.

First things first: road wins. Quality of play aside, how important was the result in DC?

Jack Kelly: The win in Washington was huge. To me, the losing mentality of this club/team is gone—especially on the road. I think any team in the league should be concerned about playing the Fire right now, including a very good FC Dallas on Thursday.

Jake Payne: It was massive for the team. They're the third best team in the MLS right now, and even though they had two games against two of the worst teams in the league, it definitely does play into the winning mentality that they'll need going forward. It's just a sign of how things are going, Niko is the highest scorer in the MLS right now, Schweinsteiger is getting going with those sweet dance moves he pulled off in DC, it looks like this team is finally coming together.

They're going to need to be together too, just looking at their schedule coming up, it looks like a doozy. FC Dallas, who is making moves so far this season. Orlando City, who look unreal at home. Atlanta United, who always seem ready to explode with multiple goals. Then you have the Revs on the road, who might not be super scary, but right now they haven't lost at home. As the season progresses, they'll need to think like winners if they want to make the playoffs. The ending of the MLS season can be pretty ruthless.

James Bridget: For sure. I still remember the end of 2013, when the Fire were super hot but couldn't quite break into the playoff spots and stay there. It came down to the last game of the season and we had to win and also hope some other results went our way (IIRC). And then we got clobbered by the Red Bulls.

(And THEN in one of the other games Camilo Sanvezzo scored a bunch and edged Mike Magee out of the Golden Boot race. It was a horror show.)

John Carollo III: Let's not get to that point.

James Bridget: Speaking of, one thing that struck me in that game: It seemed to me that DC played the way we used to. Relying on our goalkeeper to keep things close, said goalkeeper having a hell of a game except for one mistake that led to a goal, and then not being able to score ourselves and get back into it. DC this weekend = us the past two seasons.

John: Same with Colorado. It was like watching newFire vs oldFire. Kind of like exorcising our demons.

James Bridget: A palette cleanser, for sure.

John: I think Niko is finally getting his service and Accam is playing much more selflessly. That's how our offense is working.

My only concern is fitness levels. We've had a chance to rest some players against a couple of bad teams, but instead we've gone all out. Hopefully we aren't going to crash against Dallas, Orlando, and Atlanta.

James Bridget: It's worth noting that the Fire have a 10-day break between Dallas and Orlando. And then six days between Orlando and Atlanta. So the hard part of this month is over.

John: True, but we should've been resting for Dallas anyways.

James Bridget: We haven't talked about Colorado yet. I'm not sure there's a lot to talk about, other than to gush about how well they did.

Mike Tooley: I am very optimistic, but cautious as well. Last week I argued that we can only beat the teams in front of us, we do not control who we play. I still feel that way but I will also be more comfortable when we grab an away result against stronger oposition. That DC team we just beat was extremely underwhelming.

James Bridget: I want to talk a little bit about Niko, and I want to start with a mea culpa. I wasn't too enthused about him at first and had him pegged as the latest in a long line of obscure attackers that don't pan out. And here he is, leading the MLS Golden Boot race. I was entirely wrong about Niko.

Sean Spence: This is where I could get hugely involved in self-congratulations, as I was one of those folks who was enthusiastic from the get-go, but I shouldn't, really. I figured he'd be good, but I didn't think he'd be 10-goals-in-11-games good.

I've got this theory that the only thing really separating Niko is his bottomless hunger to score goals - he's not fast, he's not full of flair - hell, he doesn't even finish all that well sometimes (witness the DC game) ... but damned if I've ever seen a striker wearing the Fire badge who just radiated the desire to score goals the way Nemanja does. Maybe Ante Razov, maybe, but he was cooler about it, like 'yeah, I've got goals if you bother to set me up.' Niko's just HUNGRY.

John: Kinda sad that a desire to win is something new around here, but it's great that we have it now.

Ruben Tisch: Well, no. That desire is something that's really rare in sports. It's why they're aren't more of them.

James Bridget: The culture thing has been hands-down the club's biggest problem in the past few years. It's why people leave. It's why we couldn't get decent replacements. MLS guys all talk to each other and the message has been clear-- when Chicago calls you up, let it go to voicemail.

It was never just about losing a lot, it was that a lot of folks here didn't give a shit. Nyarko was practically begging his teammates to care about this team his last season here. The next season he asked for a transfer. This team has had a habit of burning people out. But it looks_ like things are changing.

Mike: Yea there really is nothing spectacular about the way Niko plays but he is full of energy. He is always darting about the 18 trying to get into a scoring positions and get behind the people that trying to mark him. Sometimes he is even too eager and that is why he is off sides a lot but who cares about that if he keeps scoring.

James Bridget: It's possible Niko is just on a hot streak at the moment and he'll regress to the mean. But I'm choosing to give this "optimism" thing a try.

John: That's the sort of reason why just because we're winning, many fans still aren't happy. Bridges have been burned.

James Bridget: I think that's part of it, but also think there's just this segment of the fanbase that will never be happy no matter what this team does.

Then again I've been hearing from this group a lot over the past week, so.

Mike: I think years of watching the Fire glued to the bottom of the table made everyone (including myself) crazy.

Alex Picchietti: Having a bottom of the barrel team can really do a lot of harm to a fanbase. Like you all have mentioned, bridges have been burned and people kinda went crazy, left, or just were so fed up didn't care for a while. Especially after the team had a lot of early success, when it goes sour, it can go south in a hurry

John: It's also kind of hard to preach two of the three: "Tradition Honor Passion" when you push away former players and almost flat out refuse to use your youth players that you developed. That's why a lot of old fans are angry.

James Bridget: To some extent. I also think there is a small but vocal segment of the fanbase who are just grumpy assholes. And nothing will ever be good enough.

Jack: Soooooooo how do we feel going into Thursday? FC Dallas has been good so far this season.

Sean: And they're pissed off, having finally lost a game.

James Bridget: I'm thinking a draw. Which I'd be fine with.

Ruben: 4th win in a row. The Brimstone Cup comes home.

Sean: I don't see why we can't win the game. The ability of our central midfield to snuff out counters is kinda crazy, and we seem to be settling into a comfort zone with playing a cagier style - which is exactly how you have to play Dallas. If you let yourself get overextended positionally, they will eat your lunch.

This will be a legitimate test for our defense, and could expose our keepers as the weak link. I'm worried about Son of Lamp.

James Bridget: Two things working in the Fire's favor: they're at home, and they have an extra couple days to recover vs their Seattle-Colorado-DC swing.

Sean: That's true. I'm interested to see whether rotating is a thing Velko just ain't gonna do, and a healthy XI will just roll out game after game. Juninho's injury took the midfield decision out of his hands, I guess. (Or re-injury.)

James Bridget: Yeah. "They're doing well right now, let's keep it rolling." There are defensible arguments for that.

Jack: I have the expectation of a 4th win in a row.

Mike: I was really surprised that there was not more rotation from Pauno. But then I thought about it and I am sure from his stand point the thought is probably to just pile on as many points early this year as humanly possible. FC Dallas has really been on cruise control so far, I really like their squad and I do not think they are at their best yet. I do not want to sidetrack to talking too much about Dallas, but I am wondering if their strategy has changed a bit. They've been really good in the last couple of years and won the supporters shield but it has not translated to playoff success so I feel like their focus may be shifting to hit top gear come playoff time. That said, I think this is a Fire win. I cannot believe I am this confident in the Fire but I think playing this one at home will be the difference. It will be much more difficult game compared to the last two.

James Bridget: Another thing worth mentioning: the Eastern Conference is really tough this year. The past few years the West has had all the power and it really feels like it's flipped. On this side of the divide, Toronto has a nice little cushion at the top but then things get really tight. There's only four points separating 2nd place (us) from 6th (NYRB). So the fact that we're doing pretty well for ourselves in a conference that's been so unforgiving is incredible.

(As an aside: I think it also illustrates the extent to which the MLS Hype Machine doesn't reflect the week-to-week reality of the competition. ATLUTD is the league's Cool New Kid and everyone's calling them "the most exciting project in American soccer" and they're in 9th in the East. Meanwhile plenty of folks are still sleeping on us. Even with Basti.)

John: I'd have to put in research, but I think that we can beat Dallas solely because we'll be at home. Usually we're their trap game, but now it looks like just a game.

James Bridget: So with the Fourth Round draw happening last week, I want to take everyone's temperature on the US Open Cup. Our history in the Cup notwithstanding, the past few years it's felt like a small bit of solace once it becomes clear we're going to be terrible in the league. It's helped us feel a little better about this team-- at least until we get embarrassed in the semifinals.

We're doing pretty well so far in the league. Even though it's still early, we've already emerged as legit playoff contenders. Do you think we could get away with an early Cup exit if we keep playing well in the league and end up qualifying for the playoffs?

John: No. Especially against the Bucks. The Fire are the Kings of the Cup and we need to go for the win every year.

James Bridget: Well, uh. Glad we sorted that out, I guess.

Sean: Fortunately, we are in the super weird position of having some decent players who can use some playing time. I'm looking forward to a USOC lineup that features Campbell, Alvarez, Johnson and Conner.

James Bridget: I'd love to see a Juninho-Polster central midfield, just to see how it works.

Predictions for Thursday?

Sean: 2-1 Fire.

... in a game that becomes a surprising filth-fest! That's my shadow prediction: Someone gets a red from each side.

James Bridget: I’m going to say 2-2.

Mike: I think 2-1 sounds about right.