The Chicago Fire remain firmly in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference but if they want to stay there, said midfielder Dax McCarty, it will take some serious self-reflection as the team heads into a midseason break for the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Speaking after the Fire's 2-0 loss at Atlanta United, their fourth consecutive game without a win, McCarty said the ninth-placed team in the Eastern Conference needs to “look in the mirror" during their three-week hiatus from league play.
“[We need to] have honest conversations with ourselves,” McCarty said after the game. “It’s not been good enough. The entire season’s not been good enough. So if guys can’t figure what they want and if they don’t want to be here then maybe we need to have honest conversations with ourselves because it’s not good enough from the team.”
The Fire went toe-to-toe with the defending champs for much of the game, but were punished by a pair of clinical finishes from reigning scoring champ Josef Martinez while failing to convert the good looks that came their way. Although McCarty said that they were "beaten by the better team," Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic presented a more optimistic view of his team's performance in Atlanta.
“It’s been a good game for us, I think we dominated, we created a lot of chances, we didn’t convert – it’s the same, basically what we said in the last two games,” Paunovic said, referring to the pair of draws that preceded the visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “We unfortunately conceded two goals that we could’ve done better defensively so now the break is coming, a lot of time to rest and recover but a lot of time to work and get better and improve the defensive shape and defensive performance.”
The Fire are tied on points with Orlando and Toronto for the seventh and final playoff spot in the East and just a point behind NYCFC in sixth, although they've played more games than the aforementioned teams. So whichever way you slice Chicago's recent performances, the opportunity is there for the Fire to climb up the standings after the break – they just have to figure out how to take it, whether it's defensive work, a hard look in the mirror, or a little bit of both.