Last Saturday, Chicago Fire FC were licking their wounds after finding themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline against Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium, a match marked by Robert Beric and Alvaro Medran arguing over who would take a penalty.
Eight days later, the story is a bit different. The Fire used four first-half goals to dominate the Houston Dynamo 4-0 on Wednesday at Soldier Field, then followed it up with a 2-0 win against Atlanta United on Sunday in a match that saw Beric score for the fourth time in as many outings.
That's back-to-back wins for head coach Raphael Wicky's side, who now find themselves on 15 points, one point clear of Atlanta for the 10th and final playoff spot in the East. If you ask Wicky, though, it's far from the finished product, especially for a group still in the process of gelling.
"We’re still in the process of finding each other, of building a team," he said. "I try to give the team a lot of consistency because we didn't play much together before COVID. We have a lot of new players, so I think with consistency you will be able to build something."
Midfielder Gaston Gimenez echoed that sentiment.
"It wasn’t very easy when we first got together because the majority of us were all new, and so we had to adapt quickly and learn quickly what the staff wanted from us and adapt quickly to each other, which we did," he said. "That’s something that you can only get with games, but I think that now we’re becoming a team and more cohesive unit now. We have to keep doing those little things on and off the field that’ll help us get to know each other and get better results on the field."
Meanwhile, the road hasn't been kind to the Five Stripes, who won February 29's season opener at Nashville SC but have gone winless away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium since then, including three straight 1-0 losses in the group stage of the MLS Is Back Tournament outside Orlando.
Any suggestion, however, that it has to do with traveling to the site of away matches on gamedays were brushed aside by both coach and players.
"I don't see that it should be an issue," Atlanta head coach Stephen Glass said. "Other teams have come to us and given us problems. To me, it's the teams that cope [the best] with any struggle going on right now that are going to come out on top this year...I think that when you lose goals as early as we have in first halves away from home, you give yourself an uphill battle. It's pretty straightforward."
"There's no excuses. Other teams have to do it," goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "It is what it is. It's the way the games are scheduled, the way the protocol is going forward. It's not an excuse, plain and simple. We have to find a solution to winning games when we're on the road."
Further complicating issues was the continued absence of Ezequiel Barco, who has not played since a 4-2 loss at Nashville SC on September 12. That's come amid reports that several European clubs, including Sevilla and Fiorentina, are keen on acquiring the 21-year-old's services.
Glass, though, suggested that there's nothing to Barco's inability to play other than injury.
"He did modified training [on Saturday] to try to see how much he could give us in the game, if anything," Glass said. "He's still injured at the minute. The injury means he can't play at the moment, which is as straightforward as it is."