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Are the Chicago Fire really a better team than recent scores have shown?

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Raphael Wicky says the team is creating plenty of chances, and they need to start finishing them. Is he right?

Chicago Fire FC v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Fans tend to see sporting events through the lens of their own teams. I’m a journalist and I try to avoid this, but I know I’m guilty of it as well.

Here’s what I mean: As Chicago Fire fans, we view the 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew as a Fire failure, not a Crew success. If someone asked you what happened, you might say “the Fire blew it,” or “the Fire couldn’t finish their chances,” or “the Fire screwed up defensively, again.”

Generally, we don’t see it as “the Crew played great.” We sometimes forget that good teams make things difficult for everyone else.

After Thursday night’s match, the Fire made head coach Raphael Wicky available to the media, along with two players—team captain Francisco Calvo, and new starting goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. All three men said essentially the same thing—the game was a lot tighter than the 3-0 scoreline indicated, and if the Fire could have avoided stupid defensive errors and finished more chances going forward, they might have won the match.

“There were a lot of stretches in my eyes where we played really well, but then the lesson was that they were very clinical and we were not,” Wicky said.

Is Wicky right? Is this just a matter of fine tuning some things on a team with a lot of roster turnover? After all, the team has new coach, and 18 new players with Friday’s signing of defender Carlos Terán. Is this group good enough to compete for a spot in the MLS playoffs with a few minor fixes and some more time in training together?

Defensively, the Fire have given up eleven goals this season. And yes, Wicky is correct—a lot of them were because of really poor marking or defensive positioning. The first and third goals against Columbus were both clearly because of poor marking. Both goals against Vancouver in Orlando were off through balls played through a gap. Chris Wondolowski floated into the box completely unmarked when the Fire played San Jose in Orlando. Adam Buksa caught the Fire back line ball watching in New England. Jordan Morris slipped in unmarked to win the season opener in Seattle.

In fact, the only goal the Fire had almost no chance to stop was the Darlington Nagbe wonderstrike. You could argue there should have been more defensive pressure on Nagbe, but more than anything, that was just a special play.

So yes, defensively, it seems Wicky and Co. are correct—the soft goals need to stop. But, is that a matter of coaching? Are these just mental mistakes that can be corrected as the group gets more comfortable with one another? Or, are the players on this team prone to these mistakes, no matter what? Honestly, I don’t know the answer yet. I feel like six matches isn’t enough to tell.

The attack might be a different story. Wicky says the Fire are creating plenty of chances, and it’s just a matter of putting them in the net.

He’s right. Opta has the Fire tied for fifth in MLS in chances created, at 62. Only Toronto FC (84), LAFC (78), the New England Revolution (73) and the Houston Dynamo (63) have created more.

And yet, the Fire have scored four goals this season, and zero in the last three matches. Robert Berić leads the team with two, and defenders have the other two—Jonathan Bornstein and Mauricio Pineda.

Four goals on 62 chances is really poor, but that’s definitely due in part to the team being so new. Plus, Wicky’s juggled the attacking lineup several times, CJ Sapong has now missed three of the Fire’s six matches, Ignacio Aliseda has been eased-in very slowly, and Djordje Mihailovic was benched in Orlando.

If those creation numbers continue, the Fire should start to score more goals, especially as the guys figure out how to play with one another, and Wicky settles on his best lineup.

The Fire face an average FC Cincinnati side Tuesday night at Soldier Field. It’s not going to be an easy win, but it’s a match where the Fire should be able to break their run of matches without a goal. Scoring goals can help make defending a little easier, and with that, maybe the Fire pick up a win and a bit of confidence going forward.