On Tuesday the Chicago Fire wrapped up a run of six games in 24 days against Bayern Munich, visiting the Bundesliga champions to partake in a friendly celebrating the career of German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger. It was a woeful stretch for the club on the field— the Men In Red only picked up one point, were eliminated in the semifinals of the US Open Cup, and conceded a whopping thirteen goals in total. It wasn’t any better off the field, as supporter bans and protests have lead to the plummeting attendance figures.
This is what happens when the President of a team doesn't care about improving his team, ignores supporters, grows hostile towards its SGs, and just stands by as MLS schedule a rivalry week match at 6pm on a weekday at a stadium up to 40 minutes from downtown Chicago. #CHIvCLB pic.twitter.com/cXzrLvG3Vq— Jay W. Riddle (@jay_riddle) August 24, 2018
With that behind them, the club now face a lengthy downtime period. Their next competitive game isn’t until September 16th.
This might actually be good news for all parties involved.
The Fire have been plagued with injury problems throughout the season but have seen some players return to the team in recent weeks, with more set to come back during the upcoming break. The most notable returns have been Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic, who have both recovered from ACL injuries that were picked up last season and have been able to feature in the past few matches. When returning from such a long layoff, it is key that players aren’t played too much too soon and get needed rest whenever possible.
Grant Lillard also seems to have finally recovered from his lingering issues, which could be crucial considering just how bad the Fire have been defensively this year. He’s still a young player with bags of potential and should be given plenty of chances to grow before the season comes to a close. He can’t be any worse than others who have been played in the heart of the defense for Chicago. His return should allow Brandon Vincent to return to the left back position.
Arguably the most prominent weakness in this Fire team has been at the goalkeeper position. The club should receive a boost in that regard during the weeks off as well. Fans had hope that journeyman Patrick McLain could finally be the answer to the team’s problems at the position, and this belief only continued to grow after an impressive debut against Orlando City. Unfortunately, he picked up hamstring strain two games later and hasn’t seen the field since. The initial prognosis said he would be out for around five weeks, but it is now approaching thirteen weeks since he last saw the field. With another two weeks before the next game— against Orlando, coincidentally— McLain should be able to get back in net and show fans he should be the man between the sticks for the foreseeable future.
For fans, the next few weeks will be a nice break away from the team. The last couple of games have been far from enjoyable, with performances on the field matching the general feeling of the team outside of it. Sector Latino is still banned. Section 101 has been covered by a black tarp. Section 8’s protests and boycott is ongoing, which has a tangible depressive effect on the atmosphere in Toyota Park.
One great way to Fire fans to use their free time? Throw all of their support at the Chicago Red Stars. The Red Stars are in the middle of a tight playoff race, currently sitting two points ahead of the red line with two games left in the season. Both of those contests take place before the Fire return to play, with the Red Stars hosting Sky Blue FC this Tuesday at Toyota Park, before facing off against the Utah Royals, who sit one spot behind Chicago in the standings. A point from either of those two games should be enough to secure a playoff spot. The roster is stacked, complete with US internationals, a Japanese legend in Yuki Nagasato, and one of the greatest players on the planet in Sam Kerr. Not only could the Red Stars make the playoffs, but the club has a good chance of bringing back a title to the city of Chicago come the end of the year.
With this time off, both fans and players should feel refreshed when the Men In Red host Orlando City in a game that will likely decide who finishes last place in the Eastern Conference. Absence tends to make the heart grow fonder, and hopefully some fondness can reform during this much needed time apart.