Last Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake dropped the Fire 10 points behind Seattle for the eighth and final playoff spot. With just seven regular-season games remaining, that margin may be a little too much for the Fire – winless in their last six – to make up.
“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.”
Three observations from Saturday’s match:
1) What’s up with Wilman?
Last year, center back Wilman Conde was one of the best defenders in MLS. This year? Not so much. Conde hasn’t performed anywhere close to the standard he set in 2009 and – unfortunately for the Fire – Saturday was no exception.
The 28-year-old Colombian, who is in the last year of his contract, made several big mistakes on Saturday. None were bigger than his 44th-minute foul of Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy, which gave RSL a penalty kick and earned Conde his second yellow card of the match.
Forward Alvaro Saborio buried the PK and that was all RSL needed, as they were able to control the rest of the match against the 10-man Fire.
Conde, who was generating interest from European and South American clubs earlier this summer, will need to step up his game big time to restore his reputation.
2) DP Disaster
Designated Players Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo struggled on Saturday, failing to provide anything of note in the attack for the second game in a row.
Ljungberg, who was subbed off in the 60th minute, was stationed directly behind forwards Castillo and Collins John against RSL. That positioning seemed to stifle the Swede, who couldn’t get on the ball and didn’t have room to operate when he did.
Castillo didn’t fare much better. The Mexican forward committed numerous turnovers, was ruled offside on multiple occasions and couldn’t create the chances the Fire so desperately needed. The performance was a step back for Castillo, who had been progressing decently in the games prior to Saturday’s loss.
3) Ristic is ready
A minor positive from Saturday’s match was the play of new signing Bratislav Ristic. The 30-year-old Serbian, who signed with the Fire last Tuesday, started the match at right midfield and looked solid. He was active, taking on defenders, drawing fouls and looking to get forward frequently.
Ristic moved to right back after Conde was ejected and – though he’s a natural midfielder – he performed serviceably there. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes and helped keep the Fire within striking distance.
On the whole, it was a solid (if unspectacular) performance for the Fire’s newest signing, who proved he has more than enough in his arsenal to cut it in MLS.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.