Coming into the match on Saturday, the Chicago Fire were treading water. They had drawn their last two games,and needed at least another one to keep treading water into the Gold Cup break. We needed to know that the Fire were at least good enough to get points on the road against good teams in back to back games. They did not.
Here’s what we learned from ATL 2-0 Fire.
The Fire are Who We Thought They Were
This weekend was the reckoning. It would be when we found out whether or not they could hang with the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United came into the the weekend in 5th place, but were surging over the last few weeks. They seemingly had finally got themselves together after struggling to find their identity after losing both their manager and their most impactful player over the winter.
The Fire met this challenge with more tinkering. Przemysław Frankowski was on the bench. Head coach Veljko Paunovic decided to re insert Nemanja Nikolic back into the starting XI, after benching him for two games so he could try to get his head right. It didn’t work. Niko had no shots at all, and most of the times he touched the ball, it was likley to be moving away from goal.
We knew that Fullbacks were going to be a problem from training camp, and the only thing that would save the club is if they improved throughout the year. They haven’t. Johan Kappelhof is doing his best for sure, but He’s a center back, more comfortable with defending a space then one v ones. He’s an okay right back, good enough to and consistent enough so that you know what you’re getting out of him, and can create schemes to play to his strengths.
The left back spot is the real issue. No matter who plays there, they’re not good enough. Raheem Edwards is a midfielder, and is not good enough at maintaining his defensive responsibilities. And Jorge Corrales, while better at being where he needs to be, isn’t good enough for that to matter.
This team is as we expected. Despite hopes and visions to the contrary, this is a team that wastes chances and gives up bad goals. They’re not good enough. Everything we talk about moving forward must be looked at through that lens.
Paunovic Is Failing
I’m starting to turn the corner on Veljko Paunovic. I like the guy. Every chance I’ve had to talk to him, he’s been courteous and he is able to articulate his knowledge of the game very well. It’s truly unfortunate that he’s not able to consistently get the best out of his players. He get’s his tactics wrong constantly, and seems to think that he can function in the midfield with two number 10s and a number 8, and no number 6. It was glaringly obvious that Mo Adams was needed last weekend. Atlanta’s midfield had free reign in the center of the park. Djordje, Gaitán, and McCarty were ill equipped to handle Frank de Boer’s central three, and they were allowed to control the tempo of the match. Not once were they made uncomfortable by the Fire midfield.
Pauno has failed his players and the fans with poor coaching, and it’s probably time to look for a solution elsewhere. He’s going to be a good manager someday, but it won’t be with the Fire.
Francisco Calvo Is Not The Savior
Back when Calvo first came into the squad, I had a chance to chat with our sister site E Pluribus Loonum about him and what we were getting. The answer I received was that he was a really talented player but was an absolute mental case, who wasn’t able to put it all together.
I’d say they were spot on.
There is no question for me that he can be a really good player. He has all the tools. That was evident in the game against DC, where he had the perseverance to score the game tieing goal at the death. However, on Saturday, we got the other side of him. On Atlanta’s second goal he was put of by a head fake and a spin move by Josef Martinez, who freed himself for an easy breakaway. You cannot give up goals like that in MLS.
On a team that’s been undone on multiple occasions by lapses in concentration or just dumb play, more of it from a new source is disheartening. I hoped, we all hoped, that Calvo’s arrival would help turn the club around. It turns out he’s just more of the same.
What did you think about the match? Tell us below in the comments.