This will be a long two weeks off for the Fire.
Granted, the Fire is much better than it was a year ago, when it was stumbling badly under coach Carlos de los Cobos, who was replaced early last seasons after winning just 10 of 44 games.
Frank Klopas, the technical director, replaced de los Cobos on an interim basis and owner Andrew Hauptman elevated Klopas to head coach in the last offseason after the Fire finished 2011 strong. Klopas is 11-10-13 as the Fires head coach and 5-5-3 this season, but that record could be much better and theres no momentum working now.
The Fire has yet to win two in a row and lost its last three games going into the break, during which Major League Soccer stops its games so that its players can compete for national teams in World Cup, qualifying and other international matches. The Fire has only one such player in that boat. Midfielder Marco Pappa missed the three losses to be with Guatemalas national team. He helped Guatemala to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday night in his countrys last tuneup match for the next stage of World Cup qualifying.
Pappa would have helped, but its doubtful he alone could have stemmed the recent slump. The Fire lost 2-1 at Columbus in MLS play on May 26, then took a loss in second-half stoppage time to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League three nights later in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and concluded the dismal stretch with a 2-0 road loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night.
The next match isnt until June 17, a battle with the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park, and the Fire has plenty to think about before then. Some soul-searching is definitely in order.
Klopas, his team enduring a busy May, tried to look at the big picture at the end of the month. Acknowledging the fact that lots of a long season is still ahead, Klopas gave veteran mainstays Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo significant time off during the busy stretch. That didnt help in the Fire getting results because the reserves didnt do their part.
The loss at New England (5-7-1) was a real downer, as Klopas sent Grazzini, Pause and Pardo back into the first 11 and also had Chris Rolfe available for the first time since he rejoined the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Re-signed on April 16, Rolfe --the second-best goal-scorer in Fire history -- replaced Dominic Oduro in the 69th minute. Sidelined by a sprained ankle he suffered in his second day of training with the Fire keeping him out for six weeks, Rolfe did little in his return to the lineup.
Neither did Orr Barouch, a spark off the bench last season. He got a rare start, but didnt take advantage of it. Klopas pulled him for Frederico Puppo in the 75th minute. Rafael Robayo replaced Pause after the Fire surrendered the games first goal for the 10th time in MLS games this season. Lack of focus at the start of games is increasingly becoming a serious concern for the Fire.
Oduro, possibly bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, couldnt get his team going this time. The break will do him some good. It should also enable Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, to shake off a right hamstring strain that kept him out during the three-game slump. The Fire badly needs him, with second-year man Jalil Anibaba and rookie Austin Berry showing signs of their relative inexperience.
The Fire hit the post twice (Gonzalo Segares in the first half and Oduro early in the second) before New England got the first goal, from rookie Kelyn Rowe, in the 70th minute just seconds after Rolfe came on for Oduro. Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on Rowes goal, added an insurance goal for the Revs in the 73rd minute. Rowe, a second half sub, also assisted on Feilhabers goal.
Saturdays match was the 60th between the Fire and Revs across all competitions and the Fire had dominated in recent MLS meetings, going 7-0-3 since the last previous loss on May 6, 2007. The Fire still owns a 28-22-10 edge against its most frequent league rival, but Saturdays loss was a painful one. The clubs meet two more times this regular season.
New England is one of the few MLS teams still playing in a non-soccer specific stadium. Gillette Stadium, home of footballs New England Patriots, is too big for the Revs and that fact was accentuated on a rainy night against the Fire. The crowd of just 12,523 looked especially sparse and the atmosphere was lacking.
Thats no excuse for the Fire, which is still in a fight for playoff position with two-thirds of the MLS regular season still ahead. The Fire will have to play much better than it did in the last week before the break if its to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2009 when Denis Hamlett was the head coach.