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Finding meaning in the Chicago Fire’s five remaining, seemingly meaningless matches

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Coaches, players and fans will all be looking for something different in these

Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto FC leaves the Chicago Fire with five matches remaining this season. With the team well out of the playoff picture (although, somehow still technically mathematically alive), what’s left to play for in 2021? What can the team actually accomplish? Why should you care?

For interim manager and club legend Frank Klopas, it’s pride.

“I’m going to tell you straight: I will do anything for the club,” said Klopas, who already knows he won’t be a candidate for the head coach job next season. “I came in with Rapha (Wicky) because I was asked to. I will do anything for the club and that’s what I did. The most important thing for me is that — and I told the team: You need to be competitive and fight till the end, okay, because a lot of people forget what happens in the beginning and you forget right away. But it’s so important the message and what you put in these last five or six games. I think that’s important.”

For some of the players, it’s about more than pride—it’s about landing a job next season. Nothing has been officially announced, but you’d have to believe sporting director Georg Heitz already has a pretty good idea of who he wants back in Chicago next season, and five more lame duck games won’t really make a difference. But the players who are on the way out will want to make a strong showing to try to secure a spot at another club.

One of those guys might be defender Francisco Calvo, who is out of contract after this season.

“I can’t talk right now about other teams,” Calvo said. “My job is the Chicago Fire right now. So I don’t want to talk about any other teams. I’m focusing here and then my future, I will see when the season ends. And the other guys, I’m pretty sure they are going to do the same thing.”

For the fans? It’s a tough sell. It would be hard to blame any fans who tune out for the rest of the season. The team has been terrible. But here are two compelling reasons to watch the remaining five games: Federico Navarro and Gabriel Slonina.

Navarro has played with passion and intensity since joining the team last month—he’s the ball winner the club has desperately needed since trading Dax McCarty. And Slonina is a blast to watch. His penalty save and subsequent fist pump in Sunday’s match were brilliant, and hopefully a sign of good things to come. If his development continues at this rate, “Gaga” will have plenty of European clubs banging on the Fire’s door soon enough.

Slonina isn’t cocky, he’s just incredibly confident for a 17-year-old. Here’s what he said about that penalty save:

“I knew I was prepared for it,” Slonina said. “I watched the scout and everything, and so I was pretty confident I was going to save it. It’s all about the team and right now I’m not really thinking about the penalty save. I’m thinking about how we can improve and be better the next game.”

The Fire’s next two are away from home. The team is back at Soldier Field one last time—Oct. 23 against Real Salt Lake. Two more on the road after that, then it’s on to 2022, with a new logo, a new coach, and plenty of new players. Sound familiar? Hopefully this go around is better.

NOTES

Injury Updates: Fabian Herbers left Sunday’s match after feeling a tweak in his hamstring. Right now, there’s no word on whether he was just playing it safe and will be fine, or whether it might be a longer term injury.

New Logo Merch: The Fire’s week-long celebration of the club’s new logo kicks off today with a merchandise truck making stops around the city.