The Chicago Fire will rack up the frequent flyer miles this week en route to their 31st game of the 2017 MLS campaign. The Men In Red head to San Jose for a Wednesday night matchup after taking a 3-1 loss in Philadelphia at the weekend. The Fire face the San Jose Earthquakes on short rest and on cold form. San Jose is a Western Conference bubble-team scrapping for points after being routed 4-0 by a cellar dwelling D.C. United team. Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic must find a way to get his side to perform at a higher level. In Philadelphia, the Fire never looked like a winning team.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 24, 2017
Will the Chicago Fire Put Up a Late Season Fight?
Injuries and a pattern of poor play has developed in the 2017 season’s later half. The Fire are currently a team with zero in-form goal scorers, down two top midfielders to injury and possess a patched up backline. Injuries have been costly but the coach must change the pattern in performance with the players available. Coach Paunovic mentioned repeatedly in an interview on the Fire’s website that the group needed to “bring back the good mood” and “raise the spirit.” The second year MLS coach has been put to the test as his team’s form continues to cool. His performance should be graded harshly if the team fails to regain its winning ways. Outside of the midseason benching of David Accam, the Fire have done little to adjust their tactics and lineups this season, even as the results turned awry.
The outlook of the players during Monday’s media routine doesn’t appear confident. Both forward Luis Solignac and young midfielder Djordje Mihailovic emphasized just how “tough” the game in San Jose will be. Solignac scored Chicago’s lone consolation goal at the weekend but was in less than swashbuckling spirit. When speaking to the Fire website he said, “hopefully we can get something from [the game in San Jose].” Hardly a rallying voice headed into a critical and busy week of games.
Fire Must Not Repeat Philadelphia Performance
A change must come for the results to change. The defeat to Philadelphia was a very familiar performance to previous poor showings this summer. Regardless of of how the remainder of the season plays out, the Fire front office must recognize that this squad is more than a healthy Bastian Schweinsteiger away from championship contention. Perhaps veteran Man In Red player Arturo Alvarez can provide a spark on Wednesday. The attacking midfielder returns to face the team he appeared 80 times for over two spells early in his career. Alvarez was drafted by San Jose in 2003 and won the MLS Cup in his debut season. He returned for three more seasons in 2008, after leaving San Jose after the 2004 season.
The Test Ahead
The Fire’s chances of earning the second seed in the east ride on this week’s games. The Men In Red must take any points they can muster on the road, fly back home Thursday, then prepare for the biggest game remaining in their regular season schedule. Current second place team, NYCFC, comes to Toyota Park Saturday in a battle for the important second seed. The MLS Playoffs structure pits the teams placed third through sixth into a one match play-in game. This makes the top two playoff positions far more advantageous. The Fire are still in the conversation to earn that second seed, but face heavy competition from NYCFC and a surging Atlanta United.