The Chicago Fire reached the halfway point of their season on Saturday, and find themselves “frustrated” and dissatisfied with their current status: Talented, competitive, yet prone to dropping points and at present outside the playoff places in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
“The team is not happy. Nobody is happy with the situation or the position we have,” said head coach Veljko Paunovic after the Fire’s 1-1 home draw with Real Salt Lake at SeatGeek Stadium. “We believe we deserved – that we did many games well and deserved more. But we've got to keep giving and expecting that at some point it's going to turn [in our direction].”
Captain and holding midfielder Dax McCarty agreed, and called on himself and his colleagues to find a higher gear as they take stock of an uneven campaign that presently sits at 4-6-7 with 19 points from 17 games, good for a milquetoast eighth place in the East.
“Let me put it as simply as I possibly can: We expect more out of ourselves in this locker room and I know that there's more out there for us,” said McCarty. “I know that there's frustration in the locker room, outside of the locker room. We expect more from ourselves and we have 17 games to make it better.”
The statistics show that Chicago have been one of the league’s top teams in terms of chances created, with consistently high expected-goals numbers but too few goals actually scored due to unreliable finishing. And Paunovic saw more of the same vs. RSL, though he chose to take an optimist’s viewpoint on the matter.
“We penetrate, we get in the box, we are in front of the goal and we miss. Well, that means the team is capable of doing it,” he said. “What we have to get better at is obviously converting those opportunities. In every game you see the same thing. There's no team that can defend against us but we are not capable of killing [capitalizing on chances].”
McCarty, too, wants to see more composure in front of goal, and while he asserted that “the locker room is 100 percent together,” hopes for a more collective mindset down the stretch.
“We're not as fluid as we need to be in the attack. We lack a bit of rhythm at times. It's almost as if sometimes we rely a little bit too much on our players' 1-v-1 ability – which is very good – to get us in the box,” he noted. “And then once we're there and teams are deep and it's time to put the ball in the net we just lack a little bit of that killer instinct.
“When you're in a stretch like this, sometimes you just need a little bit of luck,” McCarty said. “It's not like we're out there getting dominated by teams.”