When Jonathan Bornstein was in the middle of his first stint in Major League Soccer, back in 2008, he had a Swiss teammate with great hair who had big ideas, but didn’t see much time on the field.
That player‘s name was Raphael Wicky.
“He was plagued by injuries that year, but you know he was a great player,” Jonathan Bornstein said of his former teammate-turned-current coach. “He had always had great ideas on how he wanted to play. And he’s kind of transitioned that over to coaching. And so I think you know we’re finally seeing the fruition of all the hard work we’ve been putting in.”
After showing promise in a loss and a draw to start the season in March, Wicky’s Chicago Fire lost two of three at the MLS is Back Tournament, and struggled at times after the regular season restart.
There would be flashes of brilliance—a goal here, great midfield play there—but the Fire had a hard time putting together a full, 90-minute performance without a catastrophic mistake. Whether it was a mental lapse on defense, or a poor shot on goal, it seemed impossible for the Fire to eke out a win. When they did play well, bad luck got in the way: the late Gyasi Zardes goal against the Crew, or the VAR mess that was the Orlando City match come to mind.
All that time, Wicky would come into the post-game news conferences on Zoom, and preach the same message: we’re doing the right things, it’s just a matter of improving finishing and tightening defending.
Finally, last Wednesday, we got to see what Wicky meant. The Fire throttled Houston Dynamo in a nearly-perfect, 4-0 win at Soldier Field. Chicago followed that up with a nice, 2-0 win over Atlanta United.
Bornstein, who has traded playing time at left back with Miguel Navarro all season, started both matches.
“Obviously there’s still a big road ahead of us to become a team that everyone is scared of, and that we can prove that any team we play against we can beat,” Bornstein said. “But, I think everything that Rapha was teaching us, the principles he’s trying to instill in us, they’re very good. I think the team’s buying into everything. And so, only with time can we see more of what will come of Rapha and also this team.”
Following a busy week and a half, Wicky gave the guys two days off training after Sunday’s win over Atlanta. They’re back in training Wednesday, where they’ll be preparing to face the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. It’s technically a home game for Montreal, but with the Canadian side forced to play games south of the international border because of the pandemic, it may feel a lot more like a neutral site game. The Impact sit in eighth place, just one point ahead of the Fire in tenth, meaning this match is another “six pointer” for two teams looking to hang on to their playoff positions.
A third win in a row could put the Fire as high as eighth in the standings.
“Defensively, we’ve been able to not give up easy goals again, you know that’s something that was plaguing us,” Bornstein said. “And so the last two games especially, two clean sheets and six goals to our favor, which is always good. And we got to keep building on that.”