Five games in - panic or patience?

The Fire played their fifth game of the 2014 season this past Saturday and have yet to record a victory. Through five rounds and four consecutive draws the team has showed some reason for optimism and equally as many reasons for concern. Offensively, they have managed to score some goals. Their eight tallies is the most by any Eastern Conference club so far. On the flip side, nine goals conceded is tied with New York and Montreal at the bottom of the Eastern ranking defensively.

Although they have produced a fair amount of goals and chances one still gets the feeling that they're not quite at optimum operating efficiency in the final third. Despite lacking a true central playmaker, flux in the starting line up due to injury absence, questionable passing efficiency (at around 70% overall), and customarily losing the possession battle, the fact that they've been able to cobble together nine scores is a good sign. Particularly because Mike Magee has only scored one of those nine. Not having to rely solely on Magee to carry the scoring burden will be a key factor in the team's ability to compete as opposition will have to be wary of more than one threat. The further development of Harry Shipp and prudent use of either Patrick Nyarko and/or Dilly Duka as outside players should give Frank Yallop some flexibility when deciding on a starting eleven.

Questions remain however, on whether or not Alex or Matt Watson is the best choice to pair with Jeff Larentowicz in central midfield. Finding a role for Benjo Joya and whether or not Quincy Amarikwa can maintain the form he's shown so far are also variables to consider. This squad has been able to find the net enough through five games but there is still the overwhelming feeling that a facilitator in the final third is a missing piece, as it has been for several seasons.

The defensive side of the pitch is where the biggest concerns lie in spite of all that. Frank Yallop made changes to the back line after identifying defense as the area that needed the most immediate improvement. He was correct, the Fire's defense or lack thereof was the biggest reason for missing the playoffs last season. None of those changes have manifested themselves in any marked improvement however. Bakary Soumare is currently the lone holdover from the starting four that ended 2013. Gonzalo Segares' injury has moved Greg Cochrane into the starting line up and he's performed quite admirably in his place. Lovel Palmer has missed two games due to an odd decision by the MLSDC to suspend him for an inadvertent elbow. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has been passable but not spectacular. Perhaps the issues are born of the time needed for a team to develop some consistency and comfort in playing as a unit and preseason wasn't enough to achieve that. It's possible the improvement will come over the next few weeks but it is alarming to see the same careless errors in marking and sloppy defensive effort in set piece defending that was evident throughout all of last season.

As we've seen in the past, the season can turn in the last few months with a few tweaks and some wins strung together due to the parity widespread throughout the league. With that in my mind, the Fire can't afford another disastrous start with an already tight Eastern Conference boasting several non-playoff teams from 2013 showing marked improvement. The Fire haven't shown much change in the numbers that matter after five rounds - points. Here's the current table:

East                   W-L-T GF-GA                     West                 W-L-T GF-GA

Columbus          3-1-0     7-4                        FC Dallas                4-0-1   13-6

Toronto FC        3-1-0     5-4                       Real Salt Lake       2-0-3  8-4

Sporting KC       2-1-2      5-4                      Vancouver             2-1-2   8-5

Houston             2-2-0     7-6                       Colorado                 2-1-1  7-5

Philadelphia    1-1-3      6-6                        Seattle                       2-2-1  9-8

DC United         1-2-1      4-6                        Chivas USA             1-1-2  6-10

New England    1-3-1     2-8                        Los Angeles            1-1-1   4-2

Chicago              0-1-4    8-9                         Portland                  0-2-3  7-10

New York          0-1-4    6-9                         San Jose                   0-2-1  4-6

Montreal           0-3-2    5-9

And here's what it looked like last season after five games:

EAST              W-L-T GF-GA                 WEST                      W-L-T GF-GA

Montreal         4-1-0    6-4                         FC Dallas                  4-1-1   10-7

Sporting KC    3-1-2    7-3                         Chivas USA             3-1-1   10-7

Houston           3-2-0    8-6                        Los Angeles            2-0-2   8-3

Columbus        2-1-2     8-5                        San Jose                   2-2-2   5-7

Philadelphia   2-2-1    6-7                        Vancouver               2-2-1   6-6

Toronto FC     1-2-2    7-8                        Real Salt Lake         2-3-1   5-6

Chicago            1-3-1    4-10                       Portland                  1-1-3   9-8

DC United        1-3-1    2-5                         Colorado                  1-3-2   5-7

Seattle               0-3-1  2-5

As you can see, the final table was dramatically different at the end of the 2013 season. The first month of the season doesn't necessarily provide a picture of where the top clubs will finish. After five matches in 2013 the Fire had 4 total points. This year they've amassed the same amount.

Five games without a win isn't reason enough for panicked concern, but disturbing trends can't be ignored.

Filed under: 2014 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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    I say patience. Of course, I think the team is building not for this year, but for the next few years. Fans just have to be patient and let it happen. We may have some rough times this year, but I really do have faith that it will get better.

  • I think patience as well. The team is scoring goals and getting quality chances. Honestly watching this season, I feel like they should have alot more goals. Alot of miss hits and just misses in the final third. Magee himself could have had a handfull over the last two games, but it seems like he just isnt in form at the moment. That late attempt while Williams was hurt in the box, he had the whole short side wide open. Mike ended up going over the bar, when last year that would have been an easy goal. Next time the Fire draw a PK, can I please see someone blast the ball high and a little bit to a side?

    And on the defensive side most of the goals seem to be a loss in concentration and a little hard luck. Seems like most times, its a broken play that they can't clear out or leave the one guy who could score the goal. I would like to think that with more time, the back line will get better but who knows. Set plays and second balls have been an issue for the last few years. That being said I really like what I'm seeing from Greg Cochrane.

  • In reply to KChance:

    100% agree. I would love to see a stat on scoring chances this year through 5 games versus last year. The opportunities are there. It's a matter of concentration on defense (how long have we been saying that) and finishing (again, seems like a broken record). The only difference is that the number of real chances seems to have greatly increased.

  • Patience, though I think frustration just made a phone call.

    The place where we're at makes me think of 2011, though I still have faith in Yallop & Co. to do better things.

    On a different note, was it ever revealed what the underlying reason for his "departure" at SJ last year was (outside of "our plans didn't call for FY?) I'm just curious to fill in an empty space.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    I don't think it's ever been completely explained but it seems that after five years the decision to parts ways came quickly last season. The relationship with John Doyle and David Kaval was just at a point where everyone thought it was time for a change. There could have been philosophical differences going forward or just a realization that they were headed in opposite directions. Odd for sure.

  • Obviously patience, for the most part*.

    This season was always going to be a bit rough, with the massive change in coaching staff. Yallop is still laying the groundwork for a successful team, and much of that groundwork consists of young talent - Shipp, Joya, Cochrane, Duka, Johnson and Alex are all capable starters who are 25 or younger. With that much youth, it's going to take some time to mesh. Add to that trying to revamp an awful backline as well as to recover from the financial and contractual mess that the Klopas era left the Fire in and I think most of us would expect a wildcard playoff place and perhaps a Open cup run would be the best this season will offer.

    *I say "for the most part" however, because certain players should be just about out of Yallop's patience. If their games don't pick up, Anangono and Soumare should be panicking, because they must be replaced.

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    In reply to TomazPP:

    I agree that the team on the whole is patience, but that certain players need to start really stepping it up. JLA should be panicking, for one. Maybe even Sega a little bit?

  • In reply to Steve Sanders:

    I think Sega is well on his way out, but is heading out like Pause. He's not being unceremoniously dumped (like Soumare or Anangono should be based on form). I think Sega is likely going to be a Fire player until he retires (but I thought that about Rolfe to, so you never know), but that he won't be starting as much any more.

  • Patience for sure but worry, worry, worry. Baky's play is 9/10th's great but he kills us nearly every game with that 1/10 mental lapse. And exactly who is a suitable backup for him? Journeyman Ianni or young pup Jumper? Not terribly excited by either of those choices. BUT what I think we miss the mosty is a creative mid. Nowak and Blanco made the Fire dangerous and unpredictable. Maybe Joya will be the answer but probably not this season. Even though he's played out of position Benji has looked too lost or overwhelmed. Although Q is getting after it every game I don't see him as the forward that brings us to the top. Doubt we have salary cap room enough to pick up a proven centerback, creative mid ala Diego Valeri or a known goal scorer to partner with Magee. Worry worry worry.

  • In reply to upnorthred:

    I think that the Fire are a bit better off then you are making them. While I agree that centerback needs strengthening, I think it's more "we need to dump Soumare" than anything else. Also, I think you're underrating Ianni. He's not great, but he can perform at the MLS level adequately.

    I also think we're much more in need of a quality forward than a CAM. We have a bunch of young creative midfielders (Joya, Shipp, Duka, maybe even Alex and eventually Ward). I'd rather see what they could do providing service to a quality forward (not JLA...) than panic buy a forward and a CAM and lose cohesion.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    Forgot about Ward. He was exciting as hell to watch in pre-season. Hope he recovers quickly, joins the Fire and causes lots of trouble. I hear what you're saying about creative mids but Alex has been "almost " good enough for too long and Benji is still a season away from taking care of business...although I would like to see him given a shot in Alex's role next to Jeff L. I see a lot of positives in the young talent but it's also been so long (2006?) since Fire were a real presence at the top of the league. Agree on getting a top forward. Right now: I watch Fire, I cry.

  • Well, what's our goal here? The playoffs? Then patience is a given at this extremely early point in the season. MLS Cup? Panic is a good place to start...as I think we have a long ways to go to get there.

    It's pretty much the same old story around these parts, except we have a new management team so they obviously deserve time to get it sorted out. It's getting old though, this mediocrity.

  • Patience!
    It's still a young club but they have to start winning to
    keep pace with other teams struggling to make the playoffs.
    In July I feel the team will pick up a quality player plus by that time Grant Ward will be with the team. He'll probably crack the starting lineup in no time and will be a plus both offensively and defensively.

  • I advocate a mixed approach. Patience for the midfield, panic in the back. I guess patience for the forward line as well, except for JLA. Why?

    Patience for the midfield because we have so many young, promising players. I agree that Alex has been promising for a while, but with Joya, Shipp, Ward, Duka, and to a lesser degree Ritter and Pineda, we have some great raw and not-so-raw material to build on. Shipp's got a lot to learn but his set piece ability is already creating solid chances for us. If Larentowicz stays healthy we have an anchor and the young guys can show a bit more offensive flair.

    Panic in the back because we're shipping hopeless goals. Saturday was an exercise in futility, and those two goals are really textbook hapless defending. I don't want to hear this stuff about "balls pinging around the box" if I see defenders standing and staring while the offense is on its toes and shuttles the ball into the net, or while the ball sails untouched over the goal line. I am really ambivalent about Baky - he blocks a lot of shots and is a huge presence in the air, but sometimes he takes his physicality for granted and snoozes while the opposition is wide awake. It's not solely his fault, though - the defense is not properly organized. I don't know who can do that, but it's not Baky and apparently not Hurtado either. Segares may help in that regard but physically I don't think he's there any more, and Cochrane has shown that he is. The Johnson - Baky - Hurtado trio is just not working well together - Johnson and Baky had their moments last season where it was clear that they were not on the same page and that to me seems to be a huge ongoing issue.

    As for the forwards, well, teams are now looking for Magee, which gives anyone else on the field with him more freedom. Amarikwa has shown zip coming off the bench, and even though he has not been anything near a marquee player, and usually not a starter, he could be coming into his own in his mid-late 20s - think Hercules Gomez or Chris Wondolowski, or even in a different style, Dom Oduro. Maybe it's a streak that's bound to end, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as long as it limits JLA's time on the field.

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