BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire’s season caved in during the last month of the season, and disappointment permeated throughout the locker room after their 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Knockout Round.
But given a few days to gain perspective, a positive feeling was pervasive at the Fire’s postseason training sessions. Chicago accomplished their stated goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in the last three years, and the team feels as if it’s building something with every starter set to return.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but there’s some level of achievement that we are growing, and it’s not a light switch that you can flip on and off,” captain Logan Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “It takes time to grow, it takes time to build, and I think the club has good pieces in place to move that forward.”
The Fire’s season was a tumultuous one, with playmaker Sebastián Grazzini’s saga drawing headlines during the middle of the season. Injuries and acquisition caused five new players to be inserted into the starting lineup throughout the season.
But Chicago worked through the upheaval and were in position to take first place in the Eastern Conference with five games left, before the bottom fell out.
“The expectation this year was to build a good team, we brought in new players, and the expectation was to get in the playoffs,” midfielder Pável Pardo told MLSsoccer.com. “We were in the playoffs, but we were in fourth place. It was better than the last year. Expectation next year, first is to get into the playoffs, then do better, win more games.”
With in-season acquisitions Arne Friedrich, Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald and Álvaro Fernández set to return for a full preseason, the club expects improvement. Next year, the playoffs won’t be enough.
In 2013, the expectations will mirror those of the Fire teams of yore, when the team missed the playoffs just once and made the conference finals four times from 2005-09.
“Of course, the expectation grows,” Pause said. “Now, we’ve been here, this group has tasted it and is hungry for more. We want to do more than just making the playoffs, there’s no secret about that. Our goals don’t change of winning an MLS Cup and bringing it to Chicago. But it takes time to build. I think it will be a good time for everyone in the offseason to come back fresh, setting team goals and we’ll move on from there.”
KNOCKOUT ROUND HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago 1, Houston 2