Sitting in 12th place, 12 points behind the Colorado Rapids for the eighth and final playoff spot with just six matches remaining, the Chicago Fire have been all but eliminated from postseason contention.
But that doesn’t mean they don't have anything to play for. Chicago have plenty of problems to sort out, and there’s no time quite like the present to start finding solutions.
Here are three things the Fire should focus on while playing out the string:
1) Give Kwame Watson-Siriboe extended playing time
Chicago’s center-back situation for 2011 is incredibly uncertain. Starters Wilman Conde (expiring contract) and C.J. Brown (possible retirement) could feasibly not be in a Fire uniform come March, meaning that it’s very likely that rookie center back Watson-Siriboe will have a big role next year.
The problem is, the Fire don’t really know what they have in Watson-Siriboe. A second-round pick out of UConn, he has looked mediocre in limited time on the field, showing glimpses of his potential while remaining very prone to bad rookie mistakes in his six league appearances.
Watson-Siriboe will need to fine-tune his game if he’s to have a positive impact in 2011. The quickest way to do that is to give the raw rookie extended minutes down the stretch. Let him make his mistakes now – when there isn’t a whole lot at stake – so he can come into next year completely ready to go.
2) Begin creating an identity
[inline_node:318000]All season long, the Fire have talked about their desire to play an attractive brand of soccer. And all season long, they’ve struggled to do so.
The goal of a quick, one- and two-touch possession game has rarely been achieved. There have been too many errant balls, too many long passes, too much dribbling and not enough patience. As a result, the Fire have no identity, no knowledge of how they specifically want to play. It’s a situation that too often leads to a comedy of errors in the final third, something that must be rectified for the Fire to have success in 2011.
Considering all that, one of the Fire’s goals for the final six games should be to create (or recreate) an offensive identity. Whether they want to play an attractive brand of soccer or hit long ball after long ball over the top, the Fire need to decide what they want to do and then go out and do it. It should work wonders for the remainder of 2010 and give the team something to be sure of heading into 2011.
3) Honor McBride
Brian McBride’s career is coming to a close. Barring a surge to the postseason, the Fire forward has just six games left in his storied career, and the Fire should be doing everything they can to ensure that those final half-dozen matches are something special.
Chicago should start the three-time World Cup vet. Let him say goodbye to the US soccer fans that have supported him over the years. Give him one last bit of joy on the field. Do whatever you can to honor the Chicago-area native. He’s earned a last hurrah.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.