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How much longer are Chicago Fire fans supposed to be patient?

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With two former Fire stars leading the way, Nashville SC is proving you shouldn’t have to wait to win

Syndication: The Tennessean
CJ Sapong scored once in Nashville’s 5-1 win over the Fire earlier this month.
Alan Poizner via Imagn Content Services, LLC

At Raphael Wicky’s introductory news conference back in January 2020, he stressed that winning would take time, and Chicago Fire fans should be patient. Even though this was a club that struggled miserably for the better part of a decade, we all needed to remember this was, essentially, an expansion franchise. A re-birth. A new owner, new sporting director, new coach, new players (not to mention new logo, new jerseys, and new stadium).

Ok, fair enough, I thought. I’m generally a big picture guy, so it was easy for me to buy in to that. I can be patient and look for positives. I can see that the “same old Fire” arguments aren’t really fair here.

Over the last year and a half, the team has played some attractive football during stretches. In Joe Mansueto, the Fire have a highly involved, highly motivated local owner who isn’t afraid to spend. In the big picture, I still can’t help but think the Fire will eventually get it right under Mansueto. But when?

There’s one thing that’s really started to bother me with that whole “basically-an-expansion-team” argument. Take a look at the current MLS Eastern Conference standings. Sitting above the defending champion Columbus Crew (5th), above Jim Curtin’s Supporters’ Shield winning Philadelphia Union (4th), and just ahead of Oscar Pareja’s Orlando City (3rd), sits Nashville SC (2nd), with 26 points, and just one loss all season. Only the MLS Cup favorites New England Revolution have more points right now.

Nashville wasn’t “kind-of”, or “basically” an expansion team last season. They were an expansion team last season. And after sneaking into the playoffs in 2020, they’re one of the best teams in the East right now in 2021. In case you’ve tried to forget, and I wouldn’t blame you, Nashville absolutely smashed the Fire a couple weeks ago, 5-1.

Sure, but the Fire are only a few players away from being that good, right? There are a few common themes on most Fire fans’ wish lists right now: a solid centerback who isn’t mistake prone, a No. 6—maybe with MLS experience—who will stay put and do the dirty work so Gastón Giménez and Álvaro Medrán can push higher, and a forward who can actually find the back of the net.

This is where this really gets frustrating.

The Fire could have made an ambitious trade for Walker Zimmerman, but didn’t. But, that’s not even the worst part here. Recall, for a moment, who starts and captains Nashville SC in midfield every match. Yep, that’s Dax McCarty, the Fire’s former captain who was sent packing by Nelson Rodriguez. How much would most Fire fans love to have Dax back in town right now? There would be no questions of leadership within the team, that’s for sure. At least, in this case, Dax’s departure is on the previous administration, not the current one.

It gets worse, though! With five goals and three assists in 15 games, who sits among Nashville’s most productive attacking players?

CJ Sapong.

Fire sporting director Georg Heitz talked a lot about the need for “continuity” during the off season. Perhaps that push for continuity should have included CJ, a quality MLS veteran with a proven track record scoring goals in this league. I like Chinonso Offor’s upside a lot, but was there not room for both?

Most years over the last decade, long before I was a writer covering this team, I’d adopt a team to cheer for in the playoffs when the Fire weren’t there. The Fire have again shown flashes of quality, so maybe there’s a strong postseason push coming. But with the majority of remaining games away from home, Five Thirty Eight gives Chicago a six percent chance of making the playoffs—the lowest mark in the East.

Unless Chicago gets something together, it looks like I’ll be rooting for CJ and Dax in Nashville this fall.