When the Chicago Fire face the New York Red Bulls on Saturday in Harrison, NJ, it’ll be a matchup of two teams struggling to start the season. Like the Fire, the Red Bulls are in the middle of a youth movement. And while the Fire are 0-1-1 in 2021, New York has dropped two straight—a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City followed by a 3-2 loss to the LA Galaxy fueled by Chicharito’s hat trick.
For the Fire, this is perhaps the team’s best chance to take all three points on the road since last September’s visit to FC Cincinnati, which ended in a 0-0 draw after a sluggish 90 minutes. The Fire haven’t won on the road since October 2019’s season ending 5-2 win in Orlando, but as the Sun-Times’ Brian Sandalow pointed out, the last time the Fire won a meaningful game on the road was August 2019 in Houston.
It’s been a long time.
It’s a struggle that predates head coach Raphael Wicky, most of the players on the team, and even the current logo. And, yes, it’s something that weighs on the players’ minds.
“I don’t have any easy answers why we are not successful in our games away from Chicago,” midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski said in Polish through a translator. “But this is something that we actively think about, and maybe it’s a little bit of luck of it or some other things, but there is no doubt that in order to move to the playoffs, and this is really our goal, we have to start winning our games away from Chicago.”
MLS is in many ways a league of parity, and yet the Fire were one of only two teams in the league that failed to win at least once on the road in 2020 (Unbelievably, the MLS Cup Champion Columbus Crew were the other team). The Fire held early leads several times on the road last year, but mental errors—and sometimes just straight up bad luck—meant the team couldn’t hold on.
“Yeah, you know, historically this team hasn’t done well on the road,” defender Jonathan Bornstein said. “We are trying to break that cycle that the team has been through. I think, you know, we talk about it, how we want to be better on the road, we need to be better on the road and we need to be stealing points on the road. I think our mentality is good going into the game. Unfortunately we are putting in a lot of work, but I think the results just aren’t falling our way.”
Wicky said the road winless streak isn’t something he dwells on, and it’s not something he discusses with the team.
“This will end at one point,” Wicky said. “We’re just going to keep working and go to away games, and we always go into a game with the mentality of winning as you saw in a lot of games because we’re not just bunkering, we’re actually trying to play our game, we’re actually creating, we are actually trying to press. So we just need to keep doing that, and we will be rewarded. I believe in that. But we’re trying not to talk about it with the team. It doesn’t make sense for me.”
Wicky and his players don’t seem dejected by the streak, or even resigned to the fate that they’ll lose away from Soldier Field. But the road struggles are clearly on their minds, and overcoming that on Saturday may be the Fire’s biggest opponent—even bigger than the Red Bulls.
A point on the road is rarely a bad thing, but Saturday feels like a chance for the Fire to grab all three. If the team can create chances, finish them, and avoid defensive lapses for 90 minutes, maybe the winless streak—and any weight it carries—will end.
“This coming Saturday is a good chance for us, but generally we know that bringing the three points for wins outside Chicago is something we are looking forward to,” Frankowski said. “Even if we don’t win all of them immediately, getting some points while playing away will be a good start. But really this is something very much on our mind.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon CT on WGN-TV and CFFC Live.