The prospect of Chicago Fire making the MLS Playoffs is looking bleaker by the day, with the Fire already seven points behind sixth-placed Montreal Impact. The club have accumulated just 23 points in their opening 25 league games. It’s likely going to require seven wins from Fire’s remaining nine fixtures for them to sneak into a playoff berth.
With only six wins to their name so far this term, which account for less than a quarter of their league games, the Fire have come under fire from the city’s press. Even the presence of German icon Bastian Schweinsteiger has done little to improve the solidity of Veljko Paunovic’s team. Few could have predicted that the Fire would already be ranked in the MLS odds as 1,000/1 outsiders to win the MLS Cup, with the Macedonian coach coming under increasing pressure.
Injuries are a legitimate excuse for the Fire
There’s no doubt that the club has been inundated with injuries of late. No professional soccer team likes to use its injury list as an excuse for failing on the pitch, but they would be within their rights to do so. Matt Polster has played fewer than 90 minutes of football this season for Fire, with a serious knee injury keeping the attack-minded fullback from continuing where he left off last season. The likes of Dax McCarty and Luis Solignac have also had very little game time this term. Last year’s Golden Boot winner, Nemanja Nikolic, has also been missing for large chunks of the season.
Chicago’s injury problems would not be so much of an issue if they had a solid roster of up-and-coming youngsters coming through the ranks. Although the Fire roster is brimming with youngsters in the background, only third-year defender Brandon Vincent has played regularly in the first team. Of course, some rookies have been given their bow this season due to injuries. Midfield schemer Brandt Bronico now has ten MLS starts under his belt and will be all the better for it. However, a string of players who arrived from the 2018 MLS SuperDraft already appear to have been cast aside, notably Diego Campos, Elliot Collier and Mo Adams.
Relatively inactive transfer windows have also cost them dearly
Many Fire supporters would also agree that the club has failed to address several glaring issues across the pitch. The goalkeeping position has been a matter of debate among fans for at least three years now, but has gone unresolved. Meanwhile, the midfield has been crying out for a central playmaker to supplement Bastian Schweinsteiger. Aleksandar Katai was Fire’s marquee signing last winter, but even he has failed to make an impression in recent months. Combine the club’s failure to build on what was a hugely positive 2017 MLS season with a porous backline that’s already shipped 49 goals in 25 games, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Fire risking alienating its most loyal fans
Of course, when your club is stagnating in this way, it’s important to keep your fans on your side. At least that’s what most clubs would do. But it appears that the Fire hierarchy aren’t on the same page. The club is on a collision course with its hardcore supporters. Although the official attendances of late have been around the 18,000 mark, there is no doubt that many season ticket holders have chosen not to show up, in solidarity with Section 8—the club’s most loyal section of supporters that have been with the team since the club’s inception.
Section 8 were recently handed a one-match ban from the stadium, and Fire’s other popular organized group of supporters, Sector Latino, has also been banned from Toyota Park at times this season. The club believed these supporter groups displayed unruly behavior in the stadium. However, the supporter groups feel that they are being unfairly targeted and unnecessarily driven away at a time when the team needs them the most.
If Fire aren’t careful, they could well end up with the wooden spoon in the Eastern Conference. Although DC United currently sit beneath Chicago, they have four games in-hand on the Fire and could certainly make up the gap between the two sides over that run of games. The Fire are on a slippery slope, and there’s no sign of things bottoming out any time soon.