Consecutive streaks have been the norm for the Fire through their first eight matches of the season. The team dropped their first three games to Western opponents to start the season, before winning three straight against Eastern opponents, only to drop their last two, again at the hand of Western Conference teams. After compiling a 3-5 record thusfar in 2015, the Fire now face seven straight Eastern Conference opponents.
With the league's unbalanced schedule, conference games were already important enough. Now those games hold even more significance as the Fire attempt to keep themselves above the red line.
“Against conference opponents it's very important,” Frank Yallop said during his weekly conference call with reporters. “We're still sitting in the sixth spot, obviously it's not exactly how I thought it would go when we got going and got three wins in a row, then lose the next two. It's been up and down, topsy-turvy and kind of weird. We've played maybe not too bad, but we haven't won enough games. We've lost five matches already and that's not good. These games coming up are very important.”
With seven matches against conference opponents through the rest of May and all of June, Chicago will need to shake off the inconsistency they've demonstrated this season. The attack that has failed to produce goals will need to find a rhythm if they are to remain successful against the East.
In a forgettable 2014 season, the Fire were never able to string together more than two consecutive win. Those came last May with wins over the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City in back to back games. They've already improved on that trend, but are still dealing with issues of finishing and getting production out of their attackers. In Saturday's 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, captain Jeff Larentowicz provided the only goal for Chicago from the spot in the late going, giving him two goals on the season, more than anyone else on the team.
“We had a good meeting this morning about what I felt was missing. It's just that little bit of edge and that little but of cutting mental toughness. and really being ruthless around goal and not being nice. In both boxes we've just got to be a bit more ruthless and tough,” Yallop said. “That said, we talked about it, we trained today (Monday) and we'll see what happens on Friday, but I'm looking forward to the next stretch of games.”
Thanks to their extended break in April, the Fire hold games in hand against every opponent they face through the end of June except the Montreal Impact. While that gives them the upper hand, they still need to find a way to close out games against tough opponents like New England Revolution, DC United, and Columbus Crew, all of whom sit ahead of the Fire in the current standings by no less than five points.
“Not losing is huge but to get three points against a conference opponent really does help you in the league (conference) that you're competing in. The next seven doesn't define our season but it plays a big part in it so we want to try to get those wins in the games coming up,” said Yallop.
The first test in that seven game stretch is a rematch with New York City FC. The Fire earned all three points after a 1-0 victory on April 24 but a trip to Yankee Stadium poses different hurdles. NYCFC is still struggling but Chicago will need to find a line up that will compensate for the constraints of a smaller field in New York. “You've just got to deal with it," said Yallop. "It’s a tight pitch and one that they’re more used to than us. I’m trying to think about that in our line-up. We've got to have some sharp feet on the field because there’s not a lot of room. It’s very condensed with a lot of players in the central area with the field being narrow."