Early in the season the coaches and players talked about the Chicago Fire needing time to find some chemistry and figure out how to play with each other. The players, coaches and management all preached patience.
That didn’t happen after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto. The players were mad to lose at home for the first time since April 16.
The positive spin remained. They believed the team played well, but there were no excuses about a team that’s still building like there was in March in April.
“I think we did well,” forward Michael de Leeuw said. “If we played this every week we’re going to win, but sometimes you lose when you play well and a game like that was today. We played well, we created chances, but at the end we have nothing.”
The team had built up confidence after snapping the road winless streak less than a month ago and last week producing a resounding 3-0 win against a likely playoff team in Philadelphia. This was not the Fire team that seemed moderately pleased with home draws earlier in the season just because they were showing progress. This is a team that expected a result, one that didn't come.
“I think the feeling of the team is pretty disappointed that we couldn’t get three points because I thought everybody felt like we played better,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “I thought we put a good performance, 90 minutes.”
Of course, results are all that matters ultimately and even in the Fire’s recent improved run the team is 2-2-2 in the past six matches. The playoffs are out of reach in any practical sense.
There are positive signs. The Fire do have an attack that can score now, with 13 goals in the past six matches.
Saturday was a night of decent play on the field, but nothing to show for it in the result. Is there progress in there somewhere?
“When we look back where we were at the start of the season and where we are now we can see that the team improved way, way, way better,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “Now we look like a team, we play like a team and we really compete. It was tough for us to lose this game and we wouldn’t even be happy if we would tie the game at the end. I think that’s the spirit. I think that’s how the locker room feels now. We wouldn’t be happy with a tie so I think we have not only optimistic group, but the group that wants to win.”
The 2016 Fire may be a finished product in the fact that no major personnel changes can occur with the MLS roster freeze date just days away on Sept. 15. Next year's team will have a more solid foundation to build upon in the offseason than the Fire had a year ago. Fire fans will be hoping it won't take as long to build a cohesive team focused on results in 2017.