Bridget Gordon, our editor in chief and my podcast co-host on The North Lot, likes to say “Everything is Bad,” about the 2019 season. She’s right, everything is bad. But not for the reasons you’d think.
Everything is not bad because of the front office is inept, or arrogant, or both. It’s not bad because of the Fire can’t score or can’t play defense properly. Everything is bad, but not because Veljko Paunovic can’t get his tactics or substitutions right. Everything is bad, but not because of where they play or what suburb their stadium is located.
Everything is bad because the team should be good.
It’d be one thing if the players on the pitch weren’t good enough. The recent past for the Chicago Fire has been full of those. From Sherjill MacDonald and Gilberto to Diego Cháves and Gaston Purrari, the Fire have seen some truly awful players walk through the doors at 7000 South Harlem Ave.
It’d be one thing if the coaching was completely clueless. Frank Yallop had no Idea what was going on half the time, and his teams played an outdated brand of soccer that was successful a decade ago when he was a winning manager. But by 2014, had become stale and the league had moved on from it. As for Carlos de los Cobos, He never understood the style needed to win in MLS, and his tactics always left exploitable holes that were used early and often to defeat his teams.
However, the players on this team aren’t bad, far from it. Nemanja Nikolic is the 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner. Nico Gaitán is an awesome and dynamic playmaker. Aleksander Katai is an absolute joy to watch with the ball at his feet.
They have Bastian Schweinsteiger, who while not in his prime anymore, can still show you why he’s called DerFußballgott. They have Dax McCarty, an MLS veteran presence who probably deserved better internationally, and Johan Kappelhof is one of the better defensive players in the league.
The talent on this team is too good to have the record they have.
Likewise, Pauno isn’t that bad of a manager. His players believe in his system and they have good reason. It does work to some degree. If it didn’t, the Fire wouldn’t be at or near the top of statistical categories of expected goals and chances created.
He’s still learning how to manage properly, This is still his first senior level managerial job after winning the 2015 U20 World Cup for Serbia. His substitution decisions are vexing and confusing sometimes. His man management could be better, but he’s hardly the problem everyone scapegoating him thinks he is.
The frustrating thing about this team, the reason why everything feels so bad is because more than anything, it all just feels so wrong. Like we’re trapped in some twisted reality where everything is just slightly off. None of this should be happening. And yet here we are in the middle of July, with a 5W-8L-7D record and in 10th place. The one sliver of hope being that it’s the Eastern Conference in MLS. The Fire are technically only a point out of the playoffs, but only technically. They’ve played more games than anyone else in the conference. Even the silver lining is a dark cloud.
Everything should be good, and that’s why everything is bad.