The issues are mounting for the Fire with the offseason around the corner.
After a second-half unraveling in the lopsided 4-0 loss at D.C. United, the task of righting the ship under the direction of interim coach Brian Bliss and Nelson Rodríguez, who began his tenure as general manager on Monday, is turning into an increasingly uphill battle. The performance was "the furthest from what we expected" in comparison to the respectable fight and grit on display during Bliss' first two games in charge in narrow losses at the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC in late September.
But the defeat at RFK Stadium was the heaviest of the Men in Red's troubled campaign by a considerable margin, having conceded four goals for the second time since experiencing a 4-3 setback to the Montreal Impact on Sept. 5.
As a result, the Fire (8-19-6, 30 points) became the seventh team in MLS history to finish the regular season without an away victory.
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“That’s always the case when your team has not performed to the capabilities that you thought, and (when) you look at the whole season, inevitably there’s going to be change," Bliss said Tuesday via teleconference when asked whether Sunday's match would be the last for some players in a Fire uniform. "I would think some guys probably have pretty much close to played their last game. Which guys those are, those will still remain within the club until we can have the final discussion internally and communicate that to some of the players. But guys are pretty perceptive; they know sometimes when the end of the line is coming, that’s just the way it is. That’s something for an internal discussion.
"The words after the game on the bus before we pulled out were pretty much, ‘that’s not us,’ ‘unacceptable,’ ‘you’ve got to look at your own game and where you came up a little bit short,’ and ‘we’ve got to find a way to get back to where we were the previous games in terms of our mentality,’ because it wasn’t about ability, it was mentality. And I don’t think we had, for whatever reason, the right one going in, which was surprising based on the home game against New England.”
As he looks ahead to the regular season finale against Supporters' Shield-chasing New York Red Bulls (17-10-6, 57 points) and beyond, Bliss reiterated his vision of how many changes must occur to the roster for the club to be competitive come 2016.
“A couple might be a bit too few, I would say," he added. "Again, I use the term ‘tweaking.’ I tend to think tweaking is more like three or four. When I use the term ‘overhaul,’ or any coach or technical director uses the term 'overhaul,' it usually means 8, 9, 10, or 11 changes. I still think it’s in the tweaking mode, which to me is three or four, of which probably three have to be starters.”
Magee omitted from D.C. trip
Limited to just three MLS starts and two appearances in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action because of injury, forward Mike Magee was excluded from the team's excursion to the nation's capital.
“I think that was a little bit more his," Bliss said of the decision to leave Magee behind. "He came to me at the end of the week, and said he wanted to focus on health and strengthening, and I’ve got to respect that. I’ve got to deal with that as it comes, and that was near the end of the week of training."
Along with defender Ty Harden and midfielder Matt Watson, the 2013 MLS MVP will be out of contract next week. Should he opt to sign on for another season, Magee, who grossed $467,500 in guaranteed compensation this year, according to the MLS Players' Union, will likely have to take a sizable pay cut to remain with the club. The Chicago native had recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the handling of his recovery, but is not on his way out yet.
“He hasn’t expressed any interest either way about staying or leaving in any conversations that I’ve had. I am aware at least going back to the end of June and early into July where he was disenchanted with some of the medical. I don’t know the exact timeline of events; I do know what happened in that window where he felt that some steps were missed, but I still believe that our doctors were on it, and were giving him the best medical care. That’s the only thing I can say, but I was aware of it, yes.”
Chicago-New York start time pushed back
MLS confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Sunday's Eastern Conference showdown at Toyota Park between the Fire and Red Bulls will be pushed back from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to allow both Supporters' Shield contenders to kick off simultaneously. FC Dallas hosts the San Jose Earthquakes at Toyota Stadium.
"We created Decision Day to ensure that we have the most compelling and competitively-driven matches played simultaneously on the final day of our regular season," MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement. "Changing the time of the Fire-Red Bulls match fulfills our vision, and will provide an exciting finish to our Supporters' Shield race."
The game will be broadcast on CSN, with former Fire forward Brian McBride joining play-by-play commentator Dan Kelly as the color analyst, and will also be aired on ESPN3.