Halfway Through

CDLC looks at first six months with Fire

It has been nearly six months since first-year Chicago Fire
head coach Carlos de los Cobos met up with his new players for the start of
preseason training on February 1 here in Bridgeview.

Adding a whole host of rookies as well as veterans Collins
John, Krzysztof Krol, Julio Martinez and Deris Umanzor, the Mexican manager
took his team through nearly two months of preseason preparation, traveling to
Phoenix, Guadalajara, Jackson, MS, and Houston, while earning a 3-1-2 record in
warm up matches.

Upon the side’s return to Chicago, final roster decisions
were made and many were surprised by the release of veteran goalkeeper Jon
Busch just days before the side traveled to take on the New York Red Bulls,
opening the brand new Red Bull Arena with a 1-0 loss on March 27.

Now 14 games into the regular season, the Fire sit on 17
points with a 4-5-5 record, good enough for fourth in the Eastern Conference
and five points out of the league’s last playoff spot with 16 matches to go.
It’s not where I thought this team would be at this point and it certainly
isn’t where most within the organization pictured themselves.

From almost the beginning of preseason, de los Cobos has dealt
with injuries to a number of players, forcing him to start 10 different lineups
in 14 regular season matches – an unenviable situation for any coach looking to
provide some stability and develop with a number of players lacking experience.

“When I arrived to work with the Chicago Fire, my intention
was to transmit my ideas and philosophies about the game to the players,” said
de los Cobos from his Toyota Park office Thursday. “We’ve been working through
a lot of injuries as the season has developed and that didn’t give us the
opportunity for us as a team to improve collectively.”

Even with the injuries the team hasn’t been far off from
sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference. There have been a number of
close games where points have been dropped in the dying minutes, be it to earn
wins or draws. By my count the Fire could easily be nine points above the 17
they currently have, putting them on 26 points and in a tie for second in the
East with New York.

“A lot of times we’re playing well but we’re not getting the
results we want and that has been frustrating. I think the points that we have
– this is not the number that we looked to have at the beginning of the season
and we could definitely be higher up the table -- we can’t dwell on those
things. I think we’re living a process where we’re still building a new team.
We have the majority of the players that were here from the last season but
some of them didn’t play much last year. Now they are playing frequently and
are maturing with the experience they’re gaining.”

A combination of fixture congestion and a plethora of those
pesky aforementioned injuries could be blamed for the club’s exit from both the
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and SuperLiga tournaments in the space of three weeks
time. The Open Cup match against USL Second Division side Charleston Battery on
June 29 came just 48 hours after the Fire defeated the New England Revolution
1-0 in Foxborough, MA, while all three SuperLiga matches were played in the
span of six days.

In all four encounters, de los Cobos was unable to dress a
full compliment of 18 players.

“I understand the disappointment the fans have with the
results in the Open Cup and SuperLiga. I know especially what the U.S. Open Cup
means to Chicago Fire fans and I understand they don’t feel good about the
results. It’s necessary to look at our situation with injuries and consider
that we are a young team with players that need time to mature and play
better.”

One thing both competitions allowed the former Club America
boss to do was give some experience to Fire rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson. At
21, the Liburn, GA product is the youngest player in the team and played three
of the four tournament matches, going 1-1-1 and earning two shutouts in the
process.

“I was glad to give Sean the opportunity to show his
qualities. I like him because he has a strong personality and very good
communication with his backline. I think in both Andrew [Dykstra] and Sean we
have two very good young goalkeepers that both have futures in the game.”

 

To read Part 2 of this article, CLICK HERE

Follow Chicago Fire
Team Writer Jeff Crandall on Twitter
@JefeCrandall.