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Accountability Is For Other People: Toronto FC 3, Chicago Fire 0, MLS Game Recap

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The Fire stretch their losing streak to five games with a dismal performance in Toronto

MLS: Chicago Fire at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC 3 Altidore 52’, Osorio 72’, Giovinco 89’

Chicago Fire 0

David Roth had an excellent piece this week for Deadspin about the New York Mets and their fortunes (or lackthereof, rather) under the Wilpons family. The basic thrust of the article is that the Mets as an organization are so terrible, so dysfunctional, that the only way things are going to get better is if Major League Baseball steps in and removes the Wilpons as owners.

One passage in particular stuck with me:

... because the Wilpons cannot and will not change, nothing else has changed, either. The team’s results have fluctuated according to chance—round ball, round bat, and all that—but never really that much and never really for any other reason. The Mets fuck up in the same ways every year not just because the people in charge can’t learn from their past failures but because they do not and cannot understand those failures as theirs.

This is the one true strength that the Wilpons have—they can always find a way to make whatever is wrong the fault of someone else, even as they dictate day-to-day decisions down to the smallest detail. It’s the players who don’t play through pain or who bravely but stupidly play hurt, it’s the training staff that doesn’t know how to diagnose an injury, it’s the untrustworthy young players or the overpaid old ones, it’s the managers and general managers and interim co–general managers who keep getting it wrong. The Wilpons deal out one shitty hand after another and fume that no one knows how to play it correctly. There is, at this point, no real reason to believe that either Wilpon... has it in them to change. Absent pressure from the commissioner’s office, they won’t. Even if the Wilpons had enough money to run the team as they should, it seems clear that it wouldn’t matter.

I thought about this article a lot tonight as I watched the Chicago Fire crap the bed once again. I thought about all the little things this organization has gotten wrong over the past decade, on the pitch and off. I thought about how fundamentally resistant this club is to meaningful change. How every bad turn is somehow someone else’s fault. How it’s increasingly likely that change is only ever going to come from outside.

How far off we are from having a team and a club we can be proud of again.

In his Week 22 preview, Matt Doyle wrote about Veljko Paunovic’s tinkering and argued that it’s doing more harm than good.

Veljko Paunovic has repeatedly called out his backline, and said that they need reinforcements in the transfer market. OK, but at the same time, why have so many players on that backline regressed year-over-year? Why has he not found a core group and let them ride through the rough patches in order to create a bit of cohesion and chemistry, encouraging the type of familiarity and trust that can make a team play 15 or 20 percent greater than the sum of its parts?

Veljko’s thrown everything at the wall this year except that. We’ve seen a 3-5-2 with a sweeper, a 4-5-1, a 3-4-3, and the 4-2-3-1 that’s been in use lately, all with a constant rotation of fullbacks and center backs. Every week it’s either a new system or a new formation or a new tactical approach, and the players look uncertain these days every time the step on the pitch.

Apropos of nothing, Pauno’s lineup against Toronto included:

  • Dax McCarty being left out of the gameday 18
  • Diego Campos being played as a forward once again
  • Nico Hasler making his Fire debut in central midfield
  • Raheem Edwards fielded as an outside back (he made his Fire debut as a winger)
  • Brandon Vincent once again played as a central defender

It’s one thing to keep playing with the roster in April or even May if you’re not sure what your Best XI is yet. But it’s almost August. Pauno should’ve figured this out by now. That he hasn’t— or maybe won’t— is unmistakably A Problem.

So anyway, Toronto hammered the Fire from kickoff, earning several close scoring chances within the first five minutes. Chicago seemed out of sorts from the jump. I’m still not sure how the Fire made it to 30’ with a level scoreline. Referee calls were consistently going Toronto’s way. Every few minutes you’d hear Dan Kelly intone “here comes Toronto in numbers,” which is a pretty solid description of the first half.

Chicago had decent moments. A good run from Campos here. A header attempt from Nemanja Nikolic there. One or two threatening corners. But these were by and large isolated incidents, not part of any kind of pattern demonstrating that the Fire were equal and willing participants in this sporting contest. Too often the team looked as they had all season against a wide range of opposition— as target practice. That Toronto didn’t take the lead earlier in the game was down mostly to bad luck, whereas the Fire’s failure to get on the scoreboard could be attributed to the same sloppy, disorganized, panicky play we’ve seen all year.

Earlier in the season I would’ve expressed surprise that the Fire managed to keep the score at 0-0 heading into halftime. But we’ve seen too many games like this. Chicago hangs in there— barely— through the first half only to concede early in the second and going on to lose.

Sure enough, after a rough few minutes in the second half, Jozy Altidore capitalized on a goalmouth scramble and finished at point blank range.

I think the worst thing about these moments is hearing Frank Klopas, voiced raised to a high and anxious pitch, assuring the viewers that the Fire aren’t out of this yet. I never know if he’s trying to convince us or himself.

In any event, no one told the players because the wheels really started coming off. The lone Chicago highlight through the opening minutes of the second half was Campos nearly baiting Michael Bradley into a fist fight right before he was subbed out. Other than that, it was typical late-game nihilism of the kind we all have become accustomed to.

It wasn’t long before Toronto doubled their lead. This time Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez sliced up Fire’s backline— such as it is— and allowed Jonathan Osorio to tap it in at the far post.

Losing teams can still retain some pride. They can even be fun to watch. This Fire squad does neither of those things.

The Fire continued to play like spooked ferrets through the rest of the second half. Giovinco made it 3-0 just before the end of regulation. When the official team Twitter account runs out of things to say, you know things are bad.

Every time we have nights like this— and we have a lot of nights like this— we ask how bad things have to get before something changes. But it’s become apparent, this season and over the past few years, that accountability is for other people at the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

The Chicago Fire (6W 5D 12L, 23pts, 8th in the Eastern Conference) head west next Saturday as they take on Real Salt Lake.