BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – While the statistics may show not much has changed for the Chicago Fire, their recent run of poor results suggests Veljko Paunovic needs to get back to the drawing board if this season is to live up to its early promise.
An alarming run of six defeats in seven has seen the Men in Red slip from Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield leaders to fourth in the East, and just five points above the Montreal Impact in the seventh spot.
The Fire seem to be following much of the same routines, patterns and plays that brought them so much success in an 11-game unbeaten stretch. The shock 2-1 reversal at home to Minnesota United, the league’s bottom club who was without a win on the road all year, was a new low in a season that teased so much.
The home side enjoyed 58 percent possession, 20 shots to the visitors’ eight, but managed to hit the target with just four of them, perhaps the most telling statistic of the night. At the other end, Adrian Heath’s first-year Minnesota had just two shots on frame, but both of those from rookie striker Abu Danladi found the back of the net.
“According to the professionals, we run at least like other teams or more, we have more possession,” a downbeat Paunovic said in his brief post-game press conference. “We have more initiative and we are not different on that side than where we were in the past. I think it’s the mental thing. We are now in a situation where we are actually running a lot, we are doing a lot, but we are not sharp, we are not efficient. Then it always goes back to the confidence. It always goes back to the mentality. When it’s difficult, you see how everyone behaves against adversity.”
The Fire is finding it difficult at both ends of the field, struggling to keep clean sheets at the back and finding goals hard to come by. Their last clean sheet came nine games ago in a 4-0 home win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 1. And while they have managed to score in all but one of those nine games, a lack of goals, especially from top scorer Nemanja Nikolic, has cost the team valuable points in their pursuit of a first playoff spot since 2012.
“We’re struggling right now,” centerback Johan Kappelhof said. “I think we work hard, but it doesn’t go so well like before. It doesn’t go so easy so we have to work more than we do and we have to finish our chances. That’s also our problem.”
Captain Dax McCarty agreed.
“I just think it’s a simple game,” he said. “If you give the other team breakaways and tap-ins, you’re going to concede goals. On the other end if it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games.”
However, Paunovic is certain he can steady the ship and that the players have what it takes to get back to winning ways.
“Right now, I think I’m happy to see that our team is reacting and I’m happy to see that the guys are putting more effort and more effort,” he said. “I’m sure with that mentality and with that mindset at one point we will get the good result that will bring the confidence back. We will have to stick together like I said and keep working until that moment comes.
“We also have to understand the urgency of the situation. We still depend on ourselves, which is good, and we still have games at home that are important and are a priority obviously always, but we are also expecting that the team, in any given moment, will bounce back with a performance also on the road and hopefully next Saturday against Montreal.”