This is the second of a two-part retrospective on the 2018 season. You can read part one here.
When we last left off, things were looking good for the Fire. They had an undefeated record in the month of June, and had just clawed their way into a playoff spot after a mediocre start. Then it all went to hell.
On the back of an eight-game losing streak, the Men In Red entered a death spiral that would see them bounced out of the playoff race and rendered totally irrelevant.
It started off innocuously— a 3-2 loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Kei Kamara scored a double, bookending the scoring for the Caps in the 28th and 72nd minutes. While for the the Fire, Nemanja Nikolic and Tony Tchani scored goals for the Men In Red, and a late surge almost saw them tie the game. Sure, it was a loss, but it was a good performance. They played with energy and passion, and you wouldn’t think that the team was about to implode
The next game was the real heartbreaker, and the one that would signal the beginning of the end. The 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Union was humiliating. The Union were on the front foot from the beginning. The Fire benefited from some late-game heroics by Bastian Schweinsteiger to tie the game at three all. And then Philly twisted the knife. David Accam had dome nothing after his transfer to the Union, having tallied zero goals and zero assists coming into the match, He didn’t even start the game. He came on in the 17th minute as an injury sub. And yet, in 90+5 stoppage time, he scored the game-winning goal.
Things didn’t improve from there. Aside from a 4-0 revenge drubbing of Louisville City in the US Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t find goals, much less wins. Back-to-back losses against Toronto, goalless performances against Philly and the Red Bulls, and 2-1 defeats to RSL and Montreal formed the defining stretch of the season. They capped off one of the worst periods in club history by drawing 1-1 with the Crew ahead of their trip to Munich for Schweinsteiger’s testimonial match. At that point, the season was effectively over.
Meanwhile, things were unraveling off the pitch. Earlier in the year, there were some incidents in and around Sector Latino committed by non-members of the supporters group were committed and were investigated. After the investigation the Front Office decided to revoke the group’s supporter privileges and revoke their season tickets. As one can imagine, this did not sit well with the fans. Boycotts were announced in the middle of the summer, curtailing most organized support at home games. The Front Office’s response was draconian— they insisted that Sector Latino does not exist and, at the last media roundtable of the season, Nelson Rodriguez claimed that the Sector Latino ban was in place to prevent loss of life. The club’s executive leadership has dealt with this situation by acting in bad faith, motivated, seemingly, out of spite.
The team were better in September, going 2-1-1 for the month. But by then the damage was done. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention in a 2-0 loss at Yankee Stadium against NYCFC, and then limped home the final four games of the season, ending in a feckless 0-0 draw with DC United.
The misery didn’t stop with the end of the season. Just this week, Brandon Vincent, the young defender with such promise, announced his retirement over Twitter. A day later, Matt Polster hinted on social media that he’s ready to move on from Chicago, and Christian Dean joked (?) about joining the NFL in his own retirement announcement on Instagram. Young players are leaving this team in droves. N-Rod calls the team a “club of choice,” but the evidence suggests otherwise. When promising players are flocking for the exit, the insistence that people want to come play here rings hollow.
So that’s the year for the Fire. When all is said and done it should go down as one of the worst in club history. Certainly one of the most embarrassing and humiliating. Between the drop from last year to this year, the eight-game losing streak, and the implosion of supporter relations, the Fire are once again the laughing stock of MLS.