Chicago Fire 2 Nikolic 14’, Campos 16’
Houston Dynamo 3 Quioto 4’, Elis 56’ (PK) 74’
In postgame comments to the press, Fire head coach Velkjo Paunovic summed up the team’s performance and the general state of affairs thusly:
“It is what it is. We’re not good enough right now.”
It is what it is.
I always thought that was a remarkable phrase. Such an elegant way of disavowing responsibility by making vague hand gestures at the essential immutability of existence. Such a polite way of saying “fuck this shit” without making it sound like you care too much. Such a subtle wink-and-nod way to respond to someone asking if things could be better with, “I don’t know dude, you tell me.” Such a sneaky way to admit that you have a problem, but you can’t/won’t fix it, because it’s too hard.
In the depths of the Wooden Spoon Years, one of the worst things about the Fire was the sense that we were a confidence builder for other teams. Opponents would be on a bad run of results, see that we were next up on their schedule, and breathe a sigh of relief. “We’ve got Chicago next,” they’d say. “That should be an easy three points.” We were palette cleansers for our rivals. Banked results. Target practice.
Fire fans hoped— or at least I hoped— that the sea change signaled in the 2017 season meant that those days might be behind us.
My friends, those days have returned. The Fire blew a halftime lead to lose 3-2, at home, against a Houston team that were no better than us. A team we could have, should have, beaten. In so doing, the Fire have lost any claim to the excuse that this was just a bad start to the season, or just injuries, or just whatever. This is who we are now. It is what it is.
And sure, the lineup was set out of necessity. Dax McCarty is out for a few weeks, all but requiring Tony Tchani to get the start. A Nikolic-Katai-Campos forward line didn’t sound half bad. That they produced two goals in quick success early in the first half shows that there was merit to the idea. (And credit to Diego Campos for getting his first professional goal today.)
You can say whatever you want about the quality of our current “best” XI and ask all the What-If about our players on the injury report. But the team as currently constituted should do better.
Kevin Ellis pissed away weeks of good feelings with a truly dismal rec league performance. Tony Tchani had an opportunity to show that he deserved a second look, and he didn’t take it. The entire backline was disorganized and several steps too slow. Aleksandar Katai, for all his lovely footwork and attacking instinct, can never seem to hold possession long enough to make his ideas happen.
None of these problems are new, but with June coming up fast you’d think some of this would’ve been improved by now. But the players aren’t stepping up. Paunovic has been too slow to make changes, and those changes he has made have been too little and too late. And the front office, for all their behind-the-scenes efforts to bring in reinforcements, have nothing to show for any of it.
Against a good team in MLS, today could’ve been a blowout loss. Not unlike last week in Columbus. As it is, we went up against a mediocre Houston squad, so we only lost by one goal. We gifted Houston their first road win of the season. Because this team isn’t good enough. We’re not fast enough, we can’t defend leads, and we can’t step up in the face of adversity.
But yeah, sure. It is what it is.
The Chicago Fire (3-2-6, 11pts, 8th place in the Eastern Conference) are on the road next week, lining up against Orlando City next Saturday night.