Tough road ahead

Playoffs move farther away after attack sputters in Salt Lake


The Chicago Fire’s long playoff odds got a whole lot longer Saturday afternoon, when they fell to Real Salt Lake1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium to extend their winless streak to six games. 

Fire defender Wilman Conde fouled Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy in the box in the 44th minute, conceding a penalty kick that RSL forward Alvaro Saborio promptly buried. The foul earned Conde his second yellow card of the match, leaving Chicago down a man and down a goal heading into the break.

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The 10-man Fire couldn’t find an equalizer in the second half, leaving them in 11th place, seven points behind Seattle for the eighth and final playoff spot with just seven regular season games remaining.

“We’re really hurting ourselves with these results,” Fire defender C.J. Brown told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We’re really going to shut ourselves out of an opportunity to get in the playoffs. It’s not looking good. The guys are still working hard and trying to get ourselves in the playoffs but the results aren’t happening and the play is not good enough.”

The Chicago attack struggled for the entire match. The Fire didn’t hold possession well and failed to create any clear cut opportunities, taking a measly five shots – none of which were on goal – during the game. 

Brown said that the Fire must improve their team play if they want to see results in the attack.

“There wasn’t enough movement off the ball,” Brown said. “I think we don’t get down to what we’ve always talked about and that’s playing one- and two-touch games. We have a lot of guys that like to dribble and just haven’t figured out how to get them to change out of that mentality.

“I guess some guys say that they keep the ball long because there’s no option. That’s a possibility but I think if we keep our heads up and think to play one- and two-touch, they would see more options that right now we aren’t seeing.”

Another potential reason for Chicago’s offensive struggles – other than the obvious fact that they played the entire second half with 10 men – was the positioning of Designated Player Freddie Ljungberg

Ljungberg spent the second half of last Saturday’s game at Philadelphia in a deep lying role in the central midfield, providing solid linking play and distribution at PPL Park. 

It was expected that Ljungberg would line up in the same position on Saturday. Instead, he started the game higher up on the field, playing just behind forwards Nery Castillo and Collins John. Starved for service and finding limited space in front of him, the Swede struggled. Without Ljungberg’s influence, the Fire attack was stagnant.

The Fire head back to Chicago for a full week of training ahead of next Saturday’s crucial match against Seattle at Toyota Park. They’ll need to win that match, or they will likely miss the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. 

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.  Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.