Raphael Wicky knew the questions were coming.
His Chicago Fire are now in last place in MLS, after losing a dismal, 1-0 match at Soldier Field to the league’s previous bottom-dweller, FC Cincinnati.
After starting the season with a fairly positive draw against a quality New England Revolution side, the Fire have now dropped seven of the last eight matches, scoring just two goals during that stretch. It is, for a club that’s seen more than its share of misery over the last decade, perhaps the lowest point of all.
So when Wicky walked into the press room Wednesday night—the first time reporters have seen him or the players in person since March 2020 because of the pandemic—he already knew what was coming: Does he expect to be fired?
“I know how this works,” Wicky said. “I have played 15 years, and I have been coaching a long time, so I know how his works. We don’t have results. I don’t have arguments. I am responsible for this, so there’s not much I can say to that.
“I like being the head coach here,” Wicky continued. “I like working with my staff and my players...The only thing I can say is I’m here 100 percent committed. I go every day to work hard.”
Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth had 11 saves on the night—nine in the first half alone— breaking his career high, and tying the single match record for the Fire. He was beaten just once, on a 50th minute Álvaro Barreal free kick from 20 yards out. Even then, Shuttleworth sold out to make the save, got a finger on it, and slammed into the goal support in the process, leaving zero doubt about his desire to win the game, and to turn the season around. Shuttleworth was emphatic when asked whether the team still supports Wicky.
“First, I want to answer and say 100 percent,” Shuttleworth said. “I think Rapha is a great manager. He puts us in positions to succeed, we go over the stuff in training, we train the stuff. As players, we have to take responsibility sometimes for not stepping up and doing what the manager asks us to do. 100 percent, I can speak for the team, we are behind Rapha.”
Fire captain Francisco Calvo echoed that, saying the players have let Wicky down.
“We support Wicky,” Calvo said. “I think he’s a great coach, a great person. I think he’s an amazing person, and we’re gonna be with him all the way. He deserves more than this.”
The Fire failed to create a single shot on goal in the last match against the Columbus Crew, a trend that continued through the first half of Wednesday’s FC Cincinnati game, with just two shots on target coming after that. During one bizarre run of play early in the second half, Fire striker Robert Berić blocked a shot by teammate Luka Stojanović, and then, shortly after, Berić failed to produce a shot from one yard out after taking a bad touch off an excellent pass from Brian Gutierrez.
In second half stoppage time, it looked as if Berić had scored the equalizer, but it was pulled back—rightfully—after a VAR check showed he was offside.
“Right now, it’s all a mental thing,” Wicky said. “It’s all in their heads. It’s confidence levels...Right now, my job and the job of my staff is to lift them up, to give them confidence, to show that we believe in them.”
The Fire are back in action in three days. The Philadelphia Union come to Soldier Field on Saturday (7 p.m. CT. WGN-TV & CFFC Live) in the second of four straight home matches for Chicago. It’ll be another opportunity for the Fire to prove they’re better than this.
“We’re trying to stay positive, we’re trying to stay together. But trust me, it’s hard,” Calvo said.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Pineda (Terán 54’), D Calvo ©, D Navarro, M Kappelhoff (Medrán 54’), M Espinoza (Gutiérrez 54’), M Herbers, M Aliseda (Offor 79’), M Stojanović, F Berić
Subs not used: GK Slonina, D Bornstein, M Monis, M Collier, M Casas Jr.
FC Cincinnati: GK Vermeer, D Matarrita, D Vallecilla, D Cameron, D Gyaau, M Cruz, M Kubo, M Acosta, F Atanga (Lovadia), F Brenner (Vasquez 72’), F Barreal (Hagglund 83’)
Subs not used: GK Tyton, D Castillo, M Stanko, M Medunjanin, M Mokotjo, F Kovacevic
Stats Summary: CHI / FCC
Shots: 19 / 19
Shots on Goal: 2 / 12
Passing Accuracy: 74.4% / 69.3%
Saves: 11 / 2
Corners: 7 / 7
Fouls: 23 / 20
Total passes: 387 / 306
Offsides: 1 / 6
Possession: 56.5% / 43.5%