On Fire: Playoffs a tough ask for Chicago
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – This past weekend’s 1-0 loss to Seattle all but ended the Fire’s season, dropping them to 12th place and 12 points behind the Colorado Rapids for the eighth and final playoff spot with only six games to go.
The Fire were done in on Saturday by Sounders forward Blaise Nkufo, who scored the winner in the 88th minute. His goal was the 10th the Fire have given up in the 76th minute or later this season.
The strike, which extended Chicago’s winless streak to seven games, left some Fire players admitting that the playoffs are now out of reach.
“I just can’t see it,” Chicago forward Brian McBride told MLSsoccer.com. “All the mathematics say we still have a chance, but I don’t even know if that’s true. This one hurt.”
Three observations from Saturday’s match:
[inline_node:319265]1) Too much individual play
Head coach Carlos de los Cobos’ proposed brand of attractive, attacking soccer requires players to release the ball after one or two touches. The system breaks down if players take too much time on the ball.
Unfortunately for the Fire, their players took held the ball too much on Saturday.
The whole team seemed to look to dribble first, pass second. That tactic – or lack thereof – left the Fire unable to break down Seattle’s back four.
Countless attacks ended with Marco Pappa, Freddie Ljungberg or Patrick Nyarko getting dispossessed after attempting to split multiple Sounders defenders.
It wasn’t an attractive way to play, and it certainly wasn’t an effective one as Chicago were shutout for the fourth game in a row.
If the Fire don’t want a similar product on Wednesday night in San Jose, they’ll have to do a better job of moving off the ball.
Too many players stood around on Saturday night. There was no movement and no fluidity in the attack.
That forced attacking players like Pappa, Ljungberg and Nyarko to attempt to dribble their way through the Sounders. And that, as we all saw, didn’t work.
2) Lack of finishing
This is a tired theme. The Fire haven’t finished up to their standards all season long, and Saturday night was certainly no exception.
Chicago’s most glaring miss came in first-half stoppage time. Left back Gonzalo Segares worked his way up the wing, eventually lofting a cross into the middle from the left end line. The Costa Rican missed his intended target, forward Calen Carr, who couldn’t get his head onto the ball.
However, the ball fell directly into the path of a charging Pappa. The Guatemalan winger – who is the Fire’s leading scorer with seven goals – looked poised to put the Fire ahead, but he couldn’t get his right-footed volley past Kasey Keller, hitting the 8-yard shot directly at the veteran 'keeper.
3) Bright spots
Defenders Bratislav Ristic and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, making just their second and sixth appearances in a Fire uniform, played reasonably well Saturday night.
Ristic, who signed on Sept. 14, started and played the entire 90 minutes at right back. Though he was playing out of position – Ristic is a natural midfielder – the 30-year-old Serb performed decently Saturday. He defended well, successfully limiting Seattle winger Steve Zakuani for most of the match.
He didn’t get forward as often as he probably should’ve, but for a man not completely comfortable with the position, that’s to be expected.
Rookie defender Watson-Siriboe made his third start of the season Saturday night and, like Ristic, he performed reasonably well.
The center back used his big body to break up several Seattle attacks, and though he fell victim to a rookie mistake or two – too many missed marks in the box – his was a performance that should earn him significant minutes as the Fire play out the string.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.