The Fire’s 4-0 loss at DC on Sunday might have been an indicator that players are anxious to get the season over with even if some have their futures in Chicago hanging in the balance. One player conspicuous by his absence on the game day roster was 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee. After suffering through injuries for much of the last two seasons, Magee has expressed dissatisfaction internally and publicly with the club’s medical staff and the treatment he received.
“My health has been great the last month,” Magee told the Daily Herald last week. “The problem was with the injuries I had and the way they were handled. Once the playoffs were out of hand, my motivation switched to making sure I was healthy and fit and strong.”
With a contract that was reworked early last season set to expire, it’s not likely that the Fire pick up the option for 2016. Magee seems ready to test free agency as a result of the 28/8 rule that was negotiated into the new CBA earlier this year. The mechanism grants players that are at least 28 years of age, with 8 years of MLS experience, and an expired contract a chance to cut their own deals without being subject to allocation or re-entry drafts.
Magee was not in the 18 on Sunday and that coupled with the removal of any reference to the Fire from his Twitter account would seem to indicate that he has played his last game with Chicago. Interim coach Brian Bliss said during his weekly conference call that the decision to sit last weekend was the player’s.
“He came to me at the end of the week and said he wanted to focus on health and strengthening and I’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to deal with that as it comes and that was at the end of the week at training,” said Bliss.
According to Bliss that discussion hasn’t lead into a decision on Magee’s future with the club quite yet. He is aware, however that Magee hasn’t been happy with the treatment he’s received.
“He hasn’t expressed any interest either way about staying or leaving in the conversations that I’ve had. I am aware, at least going back to the end of June and early into July, where he was disenchanted I guess with some of the medical (staff). I don’t know the exact timeline of events. I do know it happened in that window, where he felt that some steps were missed or some things were missed. I still believe our doctors were on it and were giving him the best medical care. That’s the only thing I could say but I was aware of it, yes.”
Addressing the concerns that players have quietly expressed regarding the treatment of injuries this season will be something near the top of Nelson Rodriguez’s “to-do” list.
Magee isn’t the only player that isn’t likely to be back next season. Bliss didn’t mention names but did acknowledge that there were several others who have probably approaching their last game with the team.
“That’s always the case when your team has not performed to the capabilities that you thought. You take the season in whole and inevitably there’s going to be change, you would think. Some guys probably have, pretty much come close to playing their last game. Which guys those are, those will remain within the club until we can have the final discussion internally and communicate that to some of the players. Guys are pretty perceptive. They know sometimes when the end of the line is coming. That’s just the way it is. That’s something for internal discussion,” he said.
It’s no secret that the Fire will need to improve at the centerback position. One of the new additions last winter, Adailton has been missing since late July due to injury. He underwent to repair a “core muscle” problem on September 2 and won’t be available for the last match of the season.
“He actually when you look at statistics, and again statistics don’t always tell the story but give you a trend,” said Bliss. “When he played, and whether he was paired with Jeff or whether he was paired with Eric Gehrig, our overall goals against and chances yielded was better. When he exited with his injury and surgery we definitely, from the statistical side, took a nosedive in terms of chances conceded and obviously goals conceded. Can you pin it all on that, and him? Maybe, but he was relatively effective for us up until he got hurt. Going into the last game he’s not healthy and ready enough to play. He just in the last ten days got onto the field to participate in what I would call warm-ups and light ball work. His availability to play on the weekend is not possible.”
His future with the club is up in the air and will be addressed during season close out meetings. “There’s going to be some changes to the roster. As it stands today he has an option that could be exercised. Could we have him back at a lower number? That’s something that’s a possibility too. Could he part completely? That’s also a possibility. He made a contribution here and I think he’s been effective at times but we’ll have to evaluate that when Nelson gets on board this week and talk through it,” said Bliss.
Last week Bliss mentioned that he thought the team needed tweaks rather than a complete overhaul in order to improve on this season. The use of the word “tweak” was explained a bit more in depth with his acknowledgement that a minor change or two isn’t what he was referring to.
“A couple might be a bit too few I would say but it certainly needs, I used the term tweaking. If you want to say that’s a couple, I tend to think tweaking is more like three or four. When I use the term overhaul, and any coach or technical director uses the term overhaul, it usually means eight, nine, ten, eleven type of changes. I still think it’s in the tweaking mode, which to me is three, four of which probably three are going to be starters.”
Making the case for the job
After being asked what type of coach the Fire needed to bring in next season, Bliss reiterated his interest in the permanent position. “I think I’m very hands on. I would say I’m an information giver on the teaching side of it. My trainings are more game related, or as close to game related as possible with moments of teaching. I also believe that I work with a hard hand, but I would say it’s a fair hand. I think that type of leadership is what’s needed right now. Looking in the positive direction and not always dwelling on the past or what may be wrong with the club. You can’t ignore those things but I’m certainly not someone that accentuates those things. I coach from a positive standpoint and not a negative. I think that’s what’s needed.”
The loss on Sunday may have been the team’s worst effort of the season with DC United running away in the second half. There didn’t appear to be much urgency in players and the result bore that out. “Obviously that was furthest from what we expected,” said Bliss in recapping the defeat. “Even though we lost in those road games to start with, we fought and battled and actually gave a good account of ourselves and then had a good performance so it was completely unexpected. The words after the game on the bus before we pulled out were pretty much, that’s not us. Unacceptable. You’ve got look at your own game and where you came up a little bit short. We’ve got to find a way to get back to where we were the previous games in terms of our mentality, because it wasn’t about ability it was mentality. I don’t think we had, for whatever reason, the right one going in which was surprising after the home game against New England.”
Mental mistakes have been plentiful this season and they haven’t come from one particular position or spot on the field. It’s been universal and that’s another deficiency that needs to be addressed. Bliss said he will look institute that change for the last match of the season.
“It’s mental. I still think there’s enough talent here to win some games and be competitive. Our mental approach to the game (has to change). I think tactically, we weren’t off the mark against DC but I thought we were a little bit on the passive side in too many areas of the field. That has nothing to do with tactics or ability. That’s a mental (issue). Do you want to go close somebody down quickly or do you want to go there at a slower pace? To me that’s mental and not physical. Our mental game has got to change. I thought we brought the right mental in those two away games and especially the one at home coming from behind against New England. We’ve got to find that recipe again.
New York RB
The Fire have always had success against the New York Red Bulls at home but this game will mean something for the visitors. Jesse Marsch’s team is still fighting for the Supporter’s Shield and Bliss called their combination of Sacha Klejstan, Dax McCarty, and Felipe one of the best midfields in the league. “If you’ve watched the last couple of games, whether they’ve won the game or lost the game, even up in Toronto last midweek. Those three guys are formidable guys. They’ve got a lot of experience among them. They’re all competent on the ball. One common denominator that all three of those guys have and mostly two of three in Dax and Felipe is their insatiable work rate which can overcome a lot of mishaps that come in the course of the game.”
Matching their work rate will be key if the Fire hope to close out 2015 on a high note.
Note: The start time for the match on Sunday has been changed from 4pm to 6pm.