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DC United 1, Chicago Fire 0: What We Learned

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MLS: Chicago Fire at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The DC game was disheartening. Those are the only words I can use to describe what went happened to the Fire last Thursday. However, even with that, there are still some things to talk about. So here’s what we learned about the Fire after their 1-0 loss.

Things are Really Bad

Something is not clicking with the 2021 Chicago Fire. The stats look alright. They had the vast majority of possession against DC, more shots than DC, and had a much higher passing percentage, too. But despite all that, they never really looked more dangerous than a week-old kitten. They have nothing once the ball passes through midfield into their attack, and even then, they have trouble getting to the point where they have good attacks anyway. Last year, with largely the same people, they didn’t have this problem. The goals came either early or often— sometimes both. Even when they didn’t score, they had no problem creating dangerous situations and scoring opportunities for their forward players. So what’s going on?

Part of it, probably, has to do with the defensive struggles. The attack is fearful; as if they know that screwing up something will almost always lead to a goal at the other end. While that’s not an unreasonable position, that kind of mentality is not conducive to taking the risks and making the plays that score goals. Having to make a safety calculation as part of an attack causes balls to be late, or runs not to be made, or sometimes both, leading to dumb turnovers that fulfill the prophecy of the other team scoring.

Fighting this mentality also creates bad results. The Fire defense isn’t dumb. They know they’re a problem, so they’re trying to help by attempting to make that one pass that unlocks the other team. That, however, is a classic example of trying too hard. For example. Francisco Calvo (sorry to bring him up again. I tried) attempted to make a made about a 40-yard pass on the ground through the middle of the park to get a counterattack going. Instead, the ball was poached by DC, leading to a shot and a corner thanks to some emergency defending.

The whole situation is ouroboros. The offense is too scared to move forward decisively to try to protect themselves against the defense. They then lose possession for a moment, causing the defense to have to scramble. The defense then feels like it’s up to them to make a play, and they create problems for themselves. The club just can’t win.

The fix, unfortunately, is probably going to end up being bringing in another coaching staff. As the saying goes, you can’t fire the players. I like Wicky and his soccer philosophy is one I can get behind, but it just doesn’t seem to be working.

The Future is Upon Us

On the bright side, 17 year old Brian Gutierrez made his first start and looked pretty good. His numbers aren’t terribly impressive, but his game was a lot more than what showed up on the stat sheet. He looked calm and composed on the ball and got himself in good positions. He was the most dangerous player for the Fire in the first half. If nothing else he’s stamped himself as the front runner for the permanent starting spot on the left as long as Ignacio Aliseda remains on the injury list.

Javier Casas, Jr. also made an appearance, coming in at halftime for Gaston Gimenez, who had another poor outing, and played well, if unspectacular, which as a defensive midfielder, is kind of what you want to see. He had a few nervy moments to be sure. There were one or two moments where he gave away the ball, but on the whole, it was a good effort.

This is an encouraging sign that maybe for once, our homegrown talent may come good. There’s been few success stories out of the Fire Academy, despite the comparative success they’ve had compared to the first team. For every Djordje Mihailovic, there’s been a Colin Fernandes or a Kellen Gulley who never panned out. Add to that the recent news that AJ Reynolds will be joining Memphis in the USL Championship instead of Madison in League One is a sign that he could be the future left-back. The Fire’s youth movement may both come sooner and be more successful than we think, and that’s something to look forward to.